TOKYO (Reuters) - Taking over from the charismatic and compelling Eddie Jones as Japan coach after their victory over South Africa four years ago was never going to be an easy task but Jamie Joseph has put his own mark on the Brave Blossoms.
Since taking over in 2016, the former New Zealand flanker, who also played at the 1999 World Cup for Japan, has focussed on evolving his players’ mental state and creating an identity of dynamic, attacking rugby.
Joseph may shun the limelight and is noticeably much less comfortable in front of the media than Jones, but with the aim of reaching the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time, he has Japan coming into their home tournament raring to go.
On the way to winning the Pacific Nations Cup last month, Japan chalked up 14 tries and 109 points during three matches, playing a free-flowing style of rugby that will entertain home fans at the World Cup.
Joseph’s plans have been years in the making but it is over the past nine months the philosophy has really taken hold.
Due to a shortened Top League domestic season, Joseph and his coaching staff have essentially been in camp with their players since the beginning of the year and the 49-year-old now believes the foundations are in place for his ideas to flourish.
Japan’s game is now based on “speed, skill and unstructure”, which Joseph believes best utilise his players’ strengths but have required months of intensive fitness training and conditioning.
“The players are now fit enough to play that game,” Joseph said when announcing his 31-man World Cup squad. “(The team) are training at a level 25 percent higher than test match rugby.”
Flexibility is also key for Joseph, who has tried out a number of his more dynamic ball players in various positions across the backline.
The back three of Kenki Fukuoka, Kotaro Matsushima and Lomano Lemeki are all capable of disturbing any side and Joseph’s plans centre around getting the ball in the hands of them as quickly, and as often, as possible.
It makes for some compelling, if fragmented, rugby that Joseph will be hoping is enough to unsettle Ireland and Scotland in Pool A.
If it does, then Joseph can achieve something Jones never could - taking Japan into the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury