Friday, 14 November 2014

Do Japan need to revert to safer defensive wing options?

imageJapan despite possessing several good finishers, have struggled to find finishers who have also complemented that with safety and solidity in defence. This continued in the matches where the wide defence again looked vulnerable.


In June we saw the young speedster Kenki Fukuoka have a defensive nightmare and miss tackles for three USA tries, and there were still issues with some of other wide men in the Maori games which leaves the selectors with an attack vs defence dilemma.

The left wing for the Maori games was Akihito Yamada who scored a nice try in the second test and can be a decent finish, but is still just utterly unconvincing in defence.

The right wing from the first test Kotaro Matsushima, who despite looking technically sound earlier in the year defending at centre and tackling low and chopping down some big Samoan lumps, also didn't look too comfortable. Although he is still so young and inexperienced so has plenty of time to improve.

The starting wing from the second test meanwhile who started against the Maori All Blacks was Karne Hesketh, who looked the most secure defensively positionally which was maybe is to be expected as a result of his considerable added experience from his four years of ITM Cup rugby in New Zealand.

Hesketh may not be quite as exciting an option from a fans perspective compared to the likes of the electric Fukuoka, but Japan's wide defence looked like a fish out of water at times when the Maori All Blacks were on the counter attack in Kobe, the 29 year old former Otago wing could have put himself in the selection frame as a safe option for Eddie Jones, with several other of the Cherry Blossoms wingers having had defensive issues in recent times.
Karne Hesketh

With four years of experience in the ITM Cup, Hesketh showed his added experience over the other wingers and read the Maori attacks well as part of an improved Japanese effort in Tokyo.

Most of Japan’s wingers and particularly Matsushima and the injured duo Fukuoka and Yoshikazu Fujita are all very young with scope to improve, but it will be interesting to see if they are considered ready and backed by Eddie Jones for the big World Cup matches, or whether there will be a space for more experienced solid winger.

GIFS: The wingers defensive struggles vs New Zealand Maori

The wingers defensive positioning and decision making was often completely at sea. Yamada often was caught heading inwards and leaving space out wide, whilst the Maori could just pass and bypass him.



The problem for Yamada he was also regularly falling off tackles and failing to grasp players as well. In the first test, Matt Proctor got past him barely got touched on the way to creating the first try of the game. He was statistically the same or similar size as the wingers he was marking in Proctor or Kurt Baker, but they just seemed to have an extra edge of strength to brush him off in contact.


Matsushima also didn't look too comfortable either. Errors were slightly less frequent compared to Yamada, but in both games defensive mishaps led to Maori tries. In the first test it was a simply a straight up missed tackle, along with Yamada again being ineffectual once he has done the work to cover back as well. But more importantly in the second test, defending what was a 2 on 2, Matsushima got came in and left James Lowe unmarked and the wing went upfield and the Maori soon scored the match winning try.

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