“If you ask if they can win the World Cup in 15-20 years, then yes”

Japanese rugby is growing at a blistering pace thanks to the momentum created after successful campaigns at the 2015 and 2019 Rugby World Cups. but just 20 years later they were celebrating one of the biggest upsets in modern sports history as they famously beat South Africa in Brighton.

Their achievements thereafter have been well documented, with a first-ever World Cup quarter-final appearance in 2019, the pinnacle of Japanese rugby.

Ancient All Blacks full-back Robbie Deans coached in Japan since 2014 and won four Top League titles with the Panasonic Wild Knights. Deans is one of the leading thinkers in rugby and he is convinced that the infrastructure is in place for Japan to win the Rugby World Cup in the not too distant future.

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“Yes, I think Japan has the potential to win the World Cup one day, especially given the investment that has gone into improving Japan’s rugby infrastructure in recent years,” he said.

“If you look at the last World Cup when Japan lost to South Africa in the quarter-finals, it was basically a half-time draw. What Japan needs to build in Testing, c It’s strength in depth, because to win a World Cup, you have to win three tough Test matches on the rebound.

“Japan are at a stage where they can consistently fight to make it to the last eight, but right now they probably don’t have the depth to go any further. But if you ask me if they will have that depth and that quality to win the World Cup in 15-20 years, so yeah, I think there’s a good chance of that happening.

“You’ve been watching the transformation since I’ve been in Japan, and they’re unrecognizable now compared to what they were like six or seven years ago. In terms of DNA, their biggest challenge is the middle row, but they respond to it through eligibility laws.

“In my opinion, their biggest weak point going forward is the front row if they want to be consistently competitive at international level. However, they have players who come through their system who I think will solve those problems at the international level. future, while training is excellent.

“But I think Japan needs to play in a consistent international competition where they can hone their skills. Whether it’s the Rugby Championship or the Six Nations I’m not sure, but I guess they’ll go wherever the door opens for them.

Not so long ago, the money-laden grounds of the then Top League were a place big-name players would go to see off their careers in relative comfort when they’d achieved all they wanted at the time. test level. There was a school of thought that the rugby scene in Japan was much softer, especially from a physical point of view, and big-name players could just rub shoulders with it. But Deans insists things have changed gradually over the past few years, with the launch of the all-professional NTT Japan Rugby League One catapulting the level of domestic rugby in the country to a new level. Some of the best players in the world such as Pieter Steph du Toit, malcolm marx, Patrick Tuipulotu, Kwagga Smithand Samu crayfish are currently practicing their trades in Japan. With a Club World Cup looming in the near future, Deans is adamant there should be Japanese representation in such a competition, and he insists they would be hugely competitive against the best in the Champions Cup, and Super Rugby could offer.

Robbie Deans (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

“Initially the competition was used as a twilight zone for Super Rugby and Europe internationals,” Deans said. “The number of experienced international coaches who have come to Japan is also a huge advantage because they can transfer this intellectual property to local Japanese players and coaches.

“What’s great about this new league is that there’s also a huge focus on developing Japanese players, it’s not just about bringing world stars here, although that helps. We want this competition to develop the next generation of world-class Japanese players.

“It was still fast, skilful, but lacked the physical element of other top-tier competitions in the premier world for Super Rugby. But over the past seven years, that has changed. Each outfit has invested in its facilities, and the conditioning program, and the body types have changed over time.

“Physique, defensive lines and intensity around the contact zone have increased tenfold in Japan. This league no longer pales in comparison to other top leagues in the world, especially the top six teams.

“If there is going to be a Club World Cup, I think the Japanese national scene needs to be involved, and I’m sure we would be competitive.”

Prior to joining Panasonic Wild Knights in 2014, Deans had a distinguished coaching career in New Zealand where he won five Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, while also coaching Australia at the test level. Deans is more qualified than most to talk about the challenges facing rugby unions in Australia and New Zealand. When Super Rugby was launched in 1996 it was superior to any other domestic rugby competition on the planet, but it has lost its way over the past 10 years with smaller crowds than they used to be, especially since South African franchises defected to the United States. Rugby Championship. Deans, who coached the crusaders in the glory days of Super Rugby, worries about the way the game is going in New Zealand and thinks they need to form a new competition with Japan if they want to keep pace with the Northern Hemisphere.

“I honestly think in the long run New Zealand and Australia have to line up with Japan,” Deans said. “Japanese teams need to play in cross-border competition, but New Zealand and Australia also need access to the Japanese market.

Robbie Deans
Robbie Deans talks to James O’Connor while coaching the Wallabies in 2013. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

“It has to make sense though, and it has to be based on meritocracy. So, for argument’s sake, you’d have the top 5 from our competition qualifying for a cross-border competition with the best of Super Rugby taking part as well.

“You have to conquer your home market first, so it could be a bit like you see in the northern hemisphere where the English Premiership and Top 14 arrive first, then the top six qualify for the European Cup. We need to see something similar in New Zealand, Australia and Japan, but I’m confident it will happen over time.

“I think it has to happen in the next 10 years, if not sooner, but some people have to swallow their pride to keep going. They have to do what it takes for the game and the future.

Like all coaches, Deans watches international play closely and is intrigued by how the balance of power is shifting towards the northern hemisphere. While South Africa can be world champions, France, Ireland and England are ranked in the top five, with the top two having recently beaten New Zealand. Deans has a hunch that 2023 will be the year a European nation lifts the William Webb Ellis Cup for the second time.

“Look how competitive the international game is,” Deans said. “There are more contenders who can win next year’s World Cup than I can remember, which is obviously a very good thing.

“I think there is a very good chance that a nation from the northern hemisphere will win the World Cup this time. If you look at the top three nations in the world, two of them, France and Ireland, are from the northern hemisphere, while England are still strong.

“France have always been competitive, but have never won a World Cup, but they will be among the top in a year. I think Test Rugby has some problems though.

“A lot of things between World Cups don’t make sense. I think that has to change.

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