Lack of match opportunities raises question about Japan's place in end of year European rugby tournament
Earlier this week, it was confirmed that Fiji and Japan would likely join the Six Nations sides in a four-week rugby tournament to end the year. With little rugby on the horizon for much of the Japanese squad, however, there’s concern that the competition could be a bridge too far for the undercooked Brave Blossoms.
The Six Nations sides will naturally be populated from players who play in the Gallagher Premiership, PRO14 and Top 14 competitions. At last year’s World Cup, the vast majority of Fiji’s squad was also comprised of players involved in those same competitions. Japan’s players are primarily contracted to Japanese Top League sides, however.
While the Northern Hemisphere club competitions are set to resume in August and September, the Top League won’t return until January of next year.
With the one-off end of year competition set to kick off in mid-November, the European-based players will have two to three months worth of club rugby matches under their belt before they’re called upon to play international fixtures.
That puts Japan in a difficult position, however, as there’s nothing on the horizon for their players except for a long pre-season.
Japan coaches and some players still overseas and face issues coming back to Japan.
— Rich Freeman (@FreemanrugbyJPN) July 27, 2020
The Top League staggered to a halt in February, with two rounds of matches suspended before the whole competition was eventually called off due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Unless the Japan Rugby Football Union can schedule some fixtures for their match-starved charges, then the Brave Blossoms will likely enter the Euro competition with zero match fitness to speak and possible zero chance of success.
The Japanese players are used to fronting for big matches without having played many warm-ups, however. Last year, the majority of Jamie Joseph’s World Cup squad sat out the majority of the year’s Top League and Super Rugby matches, instead spending weeks and weeks in camp together. When the team did play, it was primarily against Super Rugby development squads.
Come the Rugby World Cup, the Japanese side cleaved through their pool unbeaten and made the knock-out stages of the tournament for their first time.
If the end of year competition does go ahead, Japan will play matches against Scotland, Italy and France before playing one of the other four sides in the final week of the tournament.
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