Pace and possession key to Japan’s success at World Cup, says Eddie Jones
Brave Blossoms coach wants 2015 Asian champions to perfect their own style of play instead of trying to copy top teams
Possession and playing at pace will be the key ingredients for Japan at the Rugby World Cup, according to head coach Eddie Jones, who is mapping out a strategy he hopes will enable his charges to spring a surprise or two this September in England.
Jones, who has used the Asia Rugby Championship - which concluded on Saturday - to run the rule over his squad, believes Japan can create history at the World Cup by making it through the pool stages for the first time if they stick to their own style rather than trying to mimic others.
"We have to play our unique brand of rugby. The strength of Japanese rugby has always been to move the ball at pace.
"While other teams mostly use a territory-based game, we need to play a possession-based game, keeping the ball in hand as much as we can and move the defence around," Jones said.
The former Wallabies coach, who has been in charge of the Brave Blossoms since 2012, is confident that if Japan hone their competitive edge they can make a huge impact.
Jones said he expects 10 changes to the squad who fronted up against Hong Kong on Saturday.
"The next three months will be crucial. We are probably 23 per cent ready now. If we can improve by one per cent every day until September 19 we should be alright. How much we are going to improve over the next three months is what will count in the end," Jones said.
Six Japanese players currently involved in Super Rugby, including Brave Blossoms captain and Chiefs number eight Michael Leitch, plus four others who have been carrying long-time injuries, are expected to return to the RWC squad.
"This tournament [the Asia Rugby Championship] was great as it allowed me to build depth and look at the rest of the players," Jones said.
Japan begin their World Cup campaign against southern hemisphere giants South Africa on September 19 in the English seaside town of Brighton. The other teams in pool B are Samoa, Scotland and the United States.
Japan have taken part in all seven previous editions of the RWC, but have only won one match, in 2001 when they defeated Zimbabwe."It would be crazy to say that qualifying for the quarter-finals is a feasible target considering our past record," Jones said. "But the way I look at it is every team in our pool can be beaten if we play well and if our opponents are a little bit off their game.
"South Africa have never played Japan before and if we can go in and surprise them at the start we can put ourselves in a position to win the match.
"If we play well against South Africa then we have a chance to knock Samoa and Scotland over. We have beaten USA home and away and while that won't be an easy game, we should expect to win. If we win two games, we would have doubled what we have done in the past World Cups and that can get us into the quarter-finals, which would be a fantastic achievement."
Jones, deputy to Jake White when the Springboks won the 2007 RWC, will take over extra responsibilities next year as director of rugby at the new Japan-based Super Rugby franchise.
"To have a team in the foremost provincial competition in the world is enormous. This is the biggest rugby project Japan has ever taken on and it will help our rugby. Japan have gone from 16th in the world to a best of ninth, and now we are ranked 11th. That is a pretty fair achievement.
"Ideally we want to be in the top 10 in the world and to do that we've got to beat sides like Samoa and Scotland who are ahead of us at the moment."
With Japan hosting the 2019 World Cup, Jones is aware the heat is on the Brave Blossoms to perform in England this summer.
"This is all about creating momentum as we look to 2019. In Japan rugby is not one of the major sports, so to start winning at the World Cup creates momentum. The public will get interested, the sponsors will get interested, and also it gets the rest of the world interested in Japan," he said.