Joseph says free-spirited Japan can trouble England at World Cup

TOKYO (AFP): Japan head coach Jamie Joseph believes his team’s “unorthodox” style can make life difficult for England at the Rugby World Cup, saying: “We can achieve anything.”

The Brave Blossoms’ free-flowing play took them to the quarter-finals on home soil four years ago and they have been drawn with England, Argentina, Samoa and Chile in Pool D for this year’s tournament in France.

Joseph told AFP that England “have suffered a little bit” since replacing coach Eddie Jones with Steve Borthwick in December, following a dismal run of results.

And New Zealander Joseph hopes Japan’s high-octane style can flummox England when they meet in Nice in September.

“We have a really attacking-based game using our fitness, the skill, the speed and a little bit unorthodox compared to the teams that we’re playing against,” Joseph told AFP.

“We know what England are going to bring, we know what Argentina are going to bring.

“They’re going to put us under a lot of pressure, but we create pressure in different ways.”

Joseph said England “lost momentum” when they axed “master planner” Jones, who took them to the 2019 World Cup final before losing to South Africa.

Borthwick oversaw a disappointing fourth-place finish at the Six Nations in his first games in charge, losing to Scotland and Ireland before suffering a record-breaking 53-10 defeat by France at Twickenham.

But Joseph believes England will be a different team by the time the World Cup comes around.

“The team has suffered a little bit but they will be better because of that,” he said.

“I think the fact that they struggled a little bit in the Six Nations was only going to happen because it takes time for teams to build under a new coaching regime.

“A year on, they would have learned a lot.”

Joseph is hoping his team can reach the World Cup knock-out round for a second straight tournament, after beating Ireland and Scotland on the way to the quarter-finals in 2019.

Japan were driven on by fervent home support as the first Asian country to host the World Cup.

Joseph said playing at home was “a blessing” and conceded that this year’s competition will bring a new challenge.

“That swell of people, the momentum that the public gave the team at the World Cup was really helpful, but that’s all gone,” he said.

“It’s clearly, from my perspective, a different preparation for this World Cup.”

‘Second to none’

Japan have not beaten any of the world’s top sides since the last World Cup but they ran France and New Zealand close in home Test matches last year.

Joseph says Japan’s World Cup success means there is now “a different level of respect from the opposition”.

But he also says Japan “don’t have enough depth” to consistently compete with the best teams and is hoping his players’ work ethic can compensate.

“When we can get to a level where everyone understands what their roles are and get physically right, we can achieve anything,” he said.

Joseph has coached Japan since 2016 and has a contract until the end of the World Cup.

The 53-year-old was beaten to the job of New Zealand’s next head coach by Scott Robertson in March.

He says “anything is possible” for him once the tournament is over.

“My focus is the same,” he said.

“If I’m good enough to take the team through then no doubt opportunities will arise, but my focus now is getting the team ready for this World Cup.”

Japan were set to assemble for the first of two training camps on Monday, before playing games against a New Zealand XV and home Test matches against Samoa, Tonga and Fiji.

They will then face Italy away before kicking off their World Cup campaign against Chile in Toulouse on September 10.

“Our strengths are our work ethic and the way we can prepare, the way that we can extract the utmost,” Joseph said.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in our coaching group to maximise the potential of our players.

“The Japanese approach to the preparation phase is second to none.”