Aim to be GR8
Japan can reach the last eight of the Rugby World Cup in 2019 on home soil, says former Wallaby coach Eddie Jones, as long as they don't try to mimic other styles but develop their own attacking brand of rugby.
'They will need to develop an attacking style of play that matches their physical capabilities. If they play fast, attacking rugby, with high skill and high fitness, they can reach the quarter-finals at the 2019 World Cup,' said Jones, who is in Hong Kong on a private visit.
Among the key aims in its 'mission' statement announced this month, the Japan Rugby Football Union said the target was to reach the last eight of the 2019 World Cup. The national side have represented Asia at all previous World Cups but have never progressed beyond the pool stages.
However, they are favourites once again to clinch the automatic 2011 World Cup berth given to the winners of the ongoing HSBC Asian Five Nations Top Five competition. If they emerge winners, Japan will be drawn with hosts New Zealand, France, Tonga and Canada in pool A at next year's tournament. While winning a couple of pool games is not out of the question, Jones, who is half-Japanese, believes countries like Japan are still some time away from challenging the more established nations.
'World rugby needs the countries outside the established order to challenge for a top six or eight spot,' said Jones, who coached Australia to the final of the 2003 World Cup, which they lost to England.
During the course of his stay here, Jones will be involved with the Sandy Bay mini-rugby club this morning, meet Hong Kong head coach Dai Rees and take part in a Q&A with former Scotland coach Frank Hadden tomorrow, as well as be involved in a clinic with the Australian International School on Tuesday.
'The soccer World Cup can be won by 20 countries, the Rugby World Cup can be won by four at the most,' Jones said. 'We need Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Japan, the United States and Italy to be much stronger. We need these countries to start challenging the bigger teams.'
Jones, 50, used to coach Japan in 1996 and is back in the country, involved with corporate rugby as general manager/head coach of Suntory. 'It was a wonderful experience coaching Japan in 1996,' recollected Jones. 'We won the Asian championship that year, and did it for the first time without using any foreign players.
'Japan can make the top 10 in the world [they are ranked 13th, and the top Asian nation]. We have a semi-professional domestic league well supported by major companies. But for the national team to improve, the standard of the domestic league must improve.'
Jones caused a huge controversy in Australia when he chose to become part of the Springbok coaching team during the last World Cup in 2007. South Africa went on to win the tournament. Australian media questioned whether Jones had the right to pass on 'intellectual rugby property' from the Australian system.
Jones put the Springboks' success down to the players. 'They were the complete team - the best athletes I ever coached,' he said. 'They were big, fast, intelligent and skilful. They can win the next World Cup as well.'
He brushed aside any talk of harbouring hopes of coaching the Wallabies again.
'I was lucky to have 10 great years in Australia, four at the Brumbies, five years and 57 tests with the Wallabies, and a year at the Reds, which was not so successful, although I recruited players like [Quade] Cooper, [Will] Genia, [Leroy] Houston, [Ben] Daley and [Digby] Ioane, all of whom now four years later are doing well.
'I have no ambition to go back to Australia to coach. I'm enjoying different challenges, although I would like to coach and win another gold medal at the Rugby World Cup. Two golds and a silver would allow me to happily retire,' Jones said.
Jones rubbished the fact that Australia would have an extra franchise in the Super 15 next year. Jones, who led the ACT Brumbies to the 2001 Super 12 title and also coached the Queensland Reds in the Super 14, said the Melbourne Rebels should not have been included.
'The addition of another Australian franchise is not good for Australian rugby, nor for the competition,' the outspoken Jones said. 'The reason they're in is because of TV rights. The current 14-team competition is just starting to find its feet and this year is the most competitive it has been for a while, with eight or nine teams in contention.'
Asked what law change he would make if he had the power to do so, Jones was quick to take the opportunity.
'I would allow interchange from the bench - have the eight reserves but allow 12 interchanges so that if a player is injured, he is immediately replaced.
'The game is too slow with too many stoppages of up to two minutes. A faster game will help fatigued defences to allow greater attack,' he added.
No small wonder then that he has called for Japan to play fast, attacking rugby and to maintain high fitness levels.