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The Rugby Championship needs Japan and Fiji

By Ben Smith
New Zealand players line up for the national anthem prior to the international test match between Japan and New Zealand All Blacks at National Stadium on October 29, 2022 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Kenta Harada/Getty Images)

NZR CEO Mark Robinson revealed that talks are underway for Fiji and Japan to enter an annual Six Nations-style tournament in 2026 to occur every two years.


This move would be a winner but it should be every year as part of an expanded Rugby Championship.

Frankly, the flagship Rugby Championship competition already lacks unpredictability and expansion with Fiji and Japan adds a missing element to shake-up the tournament which is regarded as an inferior product to the Six Nations.

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We have evidence to suggest that the Brave Blossoms are ready after watching their progress over the last five years.

In 2018 the All Blacks sent the ‘A’ team to Europe to prepare for the end of year tour while the ‘B’ squad played against Japan in Tokyo.

The second string All Black side won handily by 69-31.

Fast forward five years and the All Blacks squeezed a tight 38-31 win that was only decided in the final moments.

This was an experimental All Black side but featured front line starters Samisoni Taukei’aho, Brodie Retallick, Shannon Frizell, Sam Cane, Richie Mo’unga, and Caleb Clarke.


Japan has struggled to play quality Test fixtures frequently since 2020 but was still able to push a much stronger side than the one they faced in 2018. The gap was much closer than it once was.

Players line up prior to the international test match between Japan and New Zealand All Blacks at National Stadium on October 29, 2022 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Koki Nagahama/Getty Images)

Regardless, whether Japan can regularly defeat the All Blacks should not be the pre-requisite for approval into the Championship.

Argentina took 35 years and 30 Tests to register their first win over New Zealand, and it took nine years of competition in the Rugby Championship to do so.


The development of Los Pumas has been on-going and despite one of their best showings in 2022, they still finished last.

Japan’s 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign showed how formidable they can be against tier one competition at home.

They knocked off Ireland, who were ranked number one in the world earlier that year, and Scotland in pool play to qualify for the quarter-finals.

We have seen Japan already shock South Africa with the ‘Brighton miracle’ during the 2015 edition.

Annual competition against New Zealand, Australia, Argentina, South Africa, and Fiji in an expanded Championship is not beyond the capabilities of Japan.

They are capable of winning two of those fixtures every year, and possibly four of them, if they have a superb year.

Japan’s style will trouble the Springboks, challenge the All Blacks and no doubt be an interesting proposition for Australia and Argentina.

The All Blacks have won every full edition of the tournament since its inception in 2012.

Australia and South Africa have just one title each from truncated versions in World Cup years and duked it out for second and third most years.

Argentina have struggled, taking all but one wooden spoon and hold a record of seven wins, one draw and 46 losses after over a decade of involvement.

Elevating both Japan and Fiji into the tournament immediately brings two opponents to shake off the staleness.

While New Zealand might still win the title more often than not, Argentina will no longer pick up the spoon every year.

Japan and Fiji can benefit from having each other included at the same time, unlike Argentina who just had to suffer beatings for the most part.

As the Fijian Drua have proven, when afforded the opportunity to play at home and the time to grow, Fijian rugby can succeed.

The Drua have stunned the New Zealand Super Rugby teams in Fiji in just their second year of competition.

The Kiwi teams have vastly more resources and far more advanced development systems in place but the Drua have overcome that.

Fiji has always had what it takes to knock off any tier one opponent at home, and given the chance to, they will do so.

The Wallabies, All Blacks and Springboks will all lose to Fiji at home sooner than predicted, which will be great for the competition, and great for Test rugby.

The fever pitch atmosphere in Fiji brings a made-for-TV product that makes the road trip to Suva highly compelling, refreshing the Rugby Championship as a spectacle.

Considering the style of rugby the Fijians play and the athletes they produce, it is a no-brainer to have them included from an entertainment perspective.

If Fiji can field a team with European based-stars like Semi Radradra and captain Waisea Nayacalevu, the commercial value of the Rugby Championship increases.

Although the Fijians might not bring a big TV rights market to the table like Japan, the SANZAAR partners all get a better TV-product as a result of their inclusion.

How many rugby fans wouldn’t be interested in a full-strength Fijian side traveling to Ellis Park to play the Springboks? Or hosting the All Blacks at home in Suva in front a delirious home fans?

A six-team Rugby Championship with Japan and Fiji would reduce the number of current fixtures per team, playing everyone just once on an alternating home-and-away basis annually.

But those five Tests each would be a perfect balance of supply and demand, maintaining scarcity and holding anticipation.

The All Blacks could still play the Wallabies twice with one fixture outside the Rugby Championship for the Bledisloe Cup, as is the case now, but move to playing the Springboks and Argentina just once a year.

It would arguably be a better entertainment product from the get-go, with three tests every weekend over five rounds across the most culturally diverse locations in rugby.

There is no doubt that Japan and Fiji would sell out every home Test. They would already bring competitive teams. And when playing at home, they will take down the giants in time as Argentina have.

The longer term aim would be to have the USA as the seventh competing member of the Rugby Championship, capturing one of the biggest sporting markets in the world.

A revamped Rugby Championship with Japan and Fiji is a winner. The current tournament has the best rugby nations involved but fails to be the best rugby competition.

That could change with Japan and Fiji who bring different but exciting playing styles, as well as appealing locations to hold top tier Test rugby.




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