Thursday, 10 April 2014

The key area Japan must improve in 2014

Match picAs the Japan group together this month for another year of international rugby, there is one particular area that let them down last year in several matches and was the root cause of a lot of crucial points conceded. Can Eddie Jones and his coaching team improve this area as dramatically as they improved the key scrum problem of 2012?

After seeing his scrum torn to shreds on his trip to Europe in 2012, Japan coach Eddie Jones made it his priority to amend it immediately, adding extra training sessions with the specialist scrum coach he recruited former France hooker Marc dal Maso.

The resulting improvement to the scrum was impressive. There is still a lot to work to do, especially in terms of consistency, but it certainly was far more capable than it was before and had its moments throughout the year. However there was another area that proved to be an Achilles heel for Japan over 2013, the restart area often known as the "3rd set piece".
Countless times the inability to gather and secure possession taking a restart, offered Japan's opponents great attacking possession and territory. What’s probably most frustrating for the coaches is that the restart mistakes often occurred right after Japan themselves had worked hard to get points on the board.

The problem ran throughout 2013, but there were specific games where it was particularly damaging, most frustratingly against Scotland. After Japan scored a try to make it a one point game at 11-10 at 43 minutes, they lost the restart and Scotland put pressure on in the 22 and scored 3 minutes later (albeit by a massive obstruction). Japan then returned with a try to get back in the game 18-17 at 52 minutes, but yet again lost the restart and Scotland put pressure on in the 22 and scored 3 minutes later. Scott Wisemantel must have been left tearing his hair out, the confidence and momentum of two lovely tries got so quickly ruined.

Previously in the year, the restart also proved costly against Tonga and Canada as well. They dropped two restarts in both matches, and the next time they got into the opponents half it was only through the post conceding points kickoff. Seemingly nearly every time Japan botched a restart, they would get punished on each and every occasion as well.
GIFS: After scoring points, Japan fumbled the restart twice against Tonga and
Canada in the PNC. The next time they got back in their opponents half it was
after conceding points. The issue reoccurred against Scotland later in the year.

After Japan were rewarded for their hard work on the scrum in 2013, they now need to some more hard work on the restart. Having a solid base at scrum and lineout is so fundamental to being able to retain possession and create pressure. Eddie Jones has emphasised how important it was that Japan improved in that area.

Likewise at the restart, whilst not as frequent, it's importance is heightened by the fact that failure to take cleanly means the opposition get such good field position to exert pressure. Surely after the Scotland game this area will also be receiving a lot more focus from Eddie Jones and his coaching team.

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