Friday, 11 November 2016

November 2016 preview: Japan

Image result for Japan rugby Japan (vs Argentina, Georgia, Wales & Fiji)
One year on from their famous RWC campaign than won the hearts of many rugby fans, new coach Jamie Joseph is starting out his first tests with Japan with a squad that already bears little resemblance personnel wise to the settled group of players Eddie Jones had between 2013 to 2015.

With unavailabilities for various reasons seeing numerous players left out, Joseph named an incredible 17 uncapped players in his first 32 man squad. The turnover of players in this Japan team has been utterly eye watering. Following the Argentina test, a total of 42 new caps have been awarded this year (which could rise up to 46 by the end of the year). That figure is inflated by Asian rugby, but it's still a huge total that no other side gets remotely near. By comparison Eddie Jones gave 16 new caps in his first year in charge.

This squad still has some quality players such as Amanaki Mafi and Harumichi Tatekawa, but it is also likely to field numerous players especially in the pack who have never played at a higher level than Top League rugby. In years past a schedule like they have this year would be celebrated, but this year it looks like a baptism of fire for such an inexperienced squad, with all their opponents currently higher ranked.

Many teams go in rebuilding phases under new coaches after World Cups, but there are questions to be asked about how Jones' Japan squad has fallen apart and been dismantled to such a degree and so quickly. If the JRFU's ambition was to squash out all the momentum and excitement from the RWC campaign as fast as possible then they have done a remarkably great job over the course of 2016.

Anyway, a winless tour seems highly likely for Japan this November this year. Their squad have their work cut out even to keep any of the matches even just quite close. The minimum should be at least avoiding the embarrassments that previous Japanese sides have faced at the Millennium Stadium and leave the tour with pride in the jersey intact.

In fairness, there were similar issues with the SunWolves who did manage some positive moments to take from their inaugural Super Rugby season (mixed in with some games they'd rather forget too), and as mentioned there are still some very good players in the squad. You feel a win would require a miracle on this tour (a repeat of Georgia's performance against Belgium in 2013 maybe), but it's not out of the question they could surprise and make at least one of the matches closer than anticipated.

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