Japan went winless in its appearance at the Rugby World Cup last year, and for them to improve the rest of Asia must provide better competition.
Japan need more competition from rugby neighbours
Progress comes with a fundamental flaw. Namely, everyone is at it, so how can you ever get ahead?
When the Asian Five Nations was first conceived, back in 2008, it was with the intention of improving playing standards to the point where the continent could finally become a serious player on the global stage.
According to anecdotal evidence, great strides have been made towards that goal. Annoyingly, however, the rest of the world refused to sit on their hands while they were at it.
When push came to shove, Japan, the continent's representatives at last year's World Cup in New Zealand, emerged winless.
'Twas ever thus.
If Asia is to become a rugby power, as John Kirwan forecast a variety of times during his stint in charge of Japan, then the next four-year cycle - starting with the UAE versus Hong Kong in Dubai today - needs to count.
Japan, the one behemoth of the continental game, needs serious competition within the Five Nations. To date, they have played 16 matches and racked up 16 bonus-point wins. They put three-figures on the Arabian Gulf the first time the sides met in the competition, and they did the same against the UAE four years later. The Emirates finished third in that competition. The bare facts suggest stasis, not progress.
How lovely it would be if the UAE, Hong Kong and company can really begin to push the Japanese between now and the 2015 World Cup in England.
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