Saturday, 19 July 2014

Debate: What's the best approach to Japan's RWC dilemma?


Japan will be hoping to cause an upset at the next World Cup, but the scheduling of their opening 2 matches leaves them a bit of a dilemma of how best to approach the tournament.

Japan fixture list for the 2015 World Cup leaves them a question of how they should approach the games. All their final 3 opponents could be potentially beatable. But the opening game against South Africa, the number 2 ranked side in the world, a win looks a far more unlikely prospect. And the approach to that game against the Springboks is where the question lies mostly between 2 options, with the more winnable Scotland game coming just 3 full rest days afterwards.

Japan 2015 World Cup schedule
19/09 – South Africa (Brighton Community Centre)
23/09 – Scotland (Kingsholm)
03/10 – Samoa (Stadiummk)
11/10 –  USA (Kingsholm)

How should Japan approach the South Africa game?

Option 1: Sacrifice the game and accept a big defeat by fielding reserves and resting key players for the Scotland game 4 days later.

This has been the option Japan took under both the World Cups under John Kirwan's charge. In 2007, Kirwan rested his best team against Australia before the next game against Fiji 4 days later and the Cherry Blossoms suffered a 91-3 blowout. The same tactic was tried again in 2011 with Kirwan's reserves losing 83-7 to New Zealand prior to facing Tonga a few days after.
In 2011 Japan left their game with
the All Blacks to a weakened side

It's not just Japan who done this in World Cups. In 2011, Romania rested their best team in a 67-3 loss to England and USA rested their best team in a 67-5 loss to Australia.

There are pros and cons to this idea. Pros are that the best players should be fresher to help the chances in the targeted game and don't carry the risk of injury or bumps and bruises. Cons are that it is a bit of a defeatist policy, and is essentially accepting a blowout with depth sometimes really lacking with some nations such as Japan which exaggerates the blowout. That doesn't look great for the team, the tournament itself and damages the morale of the squad with half of them getting seriously thrashed.

In the end sacrificing games didn't finish with a particularly great World Cup for any of the sides in their targeted games in 2011. Japan in particular put in a non performance against Tonga, and USA and Romania lost comfortably to Italy and Georgia. It could however be argued to have worked better in 2007, where Fiji played a reserve team in a 55-12 defeat to Australia before making 11 changes to their starting XV that beat Wales.

Option 2: Play the best team in all 4 games and gain more respect, but risk fatigue or possible injuries hurting chances in more winnable games later on.

Other nations such as Canada, Georgia, Namibia and Samoa went for this policy in the last World Cup, however it also comes with its pros and cons.

Pros are that naturally with better players there are less blowouts, cons are that chances of winning get negatively effected through fatigue. Georgia for instance played 2 matches at the last tournament with short turnarounds against opponents with a full week, and on both occasions against England and Argentina they were competitive for much of the first 60 or so minutes before falling away.

Canada also had 2 short turnarounds and fell away late on against France, and looked spent by their final game against the All Blacks. Namibia's tournament also went steadily downhill game by game. Whilst Samoa did this and ended up having players carrying bumps who could have played in a week's time, but had to pull out of the crucial game with Wales with one of their replacements delivering one of the worst individual performances of the tournament.
In 2003, Japan arguably paid for
their early credible performances
as they ended up losing all games 

All the 4 teams in question who played full teams throughout the tournament ended up getting negatively effected by short turnarounds particularly in the latter section of matches.

Although Japan themselves never took this option under Kirwan, they did in the 2003 World Cup and it possibly ended up costing them. After two losses to Scotland and France they could take positives from, they then played Fiji and USA on a tight schedule and their form deteriorated in the more winnable games. They ended the tournament winless after losing in their final game to the USA coming off 3 days rest against a side who had full week.

Eddie Jones has already made reasonably clear what his plans are likely to be. In the 2011 World Cup he criticised Kirwan's thinking, and in 2012 stating he wanted to approach the tournament with an attitude of hoping "to win every game" and "this team to be respected" rather than "a real negative" or "defeatist" approach of not bothering with games and accepting thrashings.

Jones' approach will probably earn his side more respect against a big team like South Africa and be better for the tournament, but realistically Japan won't win that game and battling for a respectable loss to the Springboks could come back and cost the side in later games.

Neither option is ideal, but if you were Japan coach which option would take? Vote in the poll to the left.

1 comment :

  1. The results from option 1 have been less than spectacular so I'd field the best available team for all matches, And Eddie Jones is a far better coach than Kirwan will ever be,