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Why Rugby World Cup Japan heroes should be admitted to the Rugby Championship



OPINION: Come on Sanzaar. Don't sit on your hands from rugby fans to favor and instantly admit Japan to the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship.

There are a lot of good reasons for conferring tier one status on the Rugby World Cup hosts.

First and foremost, they deserve it. Jamie Joseph's Brave Blossoms would light up any competition with their refreshingly appealing rugby brand.

Bringing Japan into the Rugby Championship could keep them out of the clutches of the Six Nations, which could desperately do with the entertainment factor Japan would inject.

Japan players celebrate their Rugby World Cup success.

CAMERON SPENCER / GETTY

Japan players celebrate their Rugby World Cup success.

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Kiwi coach Jamie Joseph has led Japan to their first Rugby World Cup quarterfinals.

Cameron Spencer

Kiwi coach Jamie Joseph has led Japan to their first Rugby World Cup quarterfinals.

It's not entirely fanciful that the powerful northern unions would cast covetous glances at Joseph's jetsetters. Japan is a northern hemisphere nation and the flight time from London to Tokyo is not much longer than Auckland to Tokyo.

The Daily Telegraph has already archly noted that Japan – by virtue of their World Cup wins over Ireland and Scotland – would already be a mid-table Six Nations team.

Kiwi flanker Michael Leitch has been an inspirational leader for Japan.

GETTY IMAGES

Kiwi flanker Michael Leitch has been an inspirational leader for Japan.

Forget flight times and latitudinal factors. There is more sporting synergy between Asia and Oceania. Japan would be a better fit, in terms of time zones and playing styles, for the Rugby Championship.

They would have already been on the top tier spit had northern hemisphere rugby conservatives not scuttled World Rugby's Nations Championship plan.

Japan's Yu Tamura prepares to kick a penalty.

Eugene Hoshiko

Japan's Yu Tamura prepares to kick a penalty.

The game's governing body – which has traditionally moved at glacial speed – wanted a 12-team global competition since 2022, which would have seen Japan and Fiji admitted to the top tier, and a promotion-relegation system set up for aspiring second tier teams.

Reluctance from Six Nations protectionists to accept the promotion-relegation concept doomed the deal.

It's a shame the Nations Championship never got past first base, but its integrity could still be preserved.

The solution is in Sanzaar's hands.

Fiji celebrate a World Cup try against Wales.

AP

Fiji celebrate a World Cup try against Wales.

Why couldn't Japan, and Fiji – who provided their potential against Wales and Australia in World Cup pool matches – be admitted to the Rugby Championship sanctum?

If it's too late, logistically, for 2020, they could certainly be included from 2021.

Unlike Italy – who have won 14 out of 20 wooden spoons in the Six Nations and never finished higher than fourth – Japan would be instantly competitive against the big boys.

Who would bet against them beating Argentina, or even the Wallabies, given Australia's recent record of under-performance?

Japan would also deliver big, capacity crowds for home matches and add millions to the global television audience.

Their style of play – second only to the All Blacks for excitement quotient – would lift the Rugby Championship from its current rut.

Japan fans have embraced the Rugby World Cup and their national team.

Cameron Spencer / Getty Images

Japan fans have embraced the Rugby World Cup and their national team.

Who wouldn't want to see more of Japan's wonder wings Kento Fukuoka and Kotaro Matsushima, backrower Kazuki Himeno, playmaker Yu Tamura and frontrowers Shota Horie, Keita Inagaki and Koo Ji-won?

Japan's gameplan delights rugby purists. They play at pace, dexterously shifting the ball before contact, and have shattered the size-will-always-triumph-over-skill paradigm.

Joseph and his backs coach, former All Black Tony Brown, holds great credit for Japan's first advance to the World Cup quarterfinals.

But Japanese teams, at all levels, have been committed to attacking play, for 50 years or more. It's embedded in their rugby DNA.

  Keita Inagaki of Japan touches down to score against Scotland.

STU FORSTER / GETTY IMAGES

Keita Inagaki of Japan touches down to score against Scotland.

The Brave Blossoms will only get better with more opportunities to play top-tier teams.

The same could be said for Fiji.

The Pacific Island nation would not have the same commercial appeal to Rugby Championship organizers as Japan, but they boast a clutch of world-class players (Semi Radrada, Leone Nakawara, Levani Botia, Peceli Yato and Josua Tuisova) and some of the game's most natural athletes.

Sanzaar should forget about business factors for a moment and make the right rugby decision.

It might take time for Japan and Fiji to become serious threats to the All Blacks and Springboks, but they would be competitive.

The six-team Rugby Championship would inevitably lead to a single-round format, similar to the Six Nations – as opposed to the current double-round four-team system.

But there would be nothing stopping NZ Rugby from adding extra revenue-raising tests against the Springboks and Australia.

Having Japan and Fiji – with their offloading elan and unpredictability – would make the Rugby Championship compelling viewing.


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