Japan has long been labelled as a predictable, set-play dependent, unimaginative rugby nation. However, in recent years, it seems they are starting to ‘feel’ the game more and shake that label. This newfound rugby instinct may have come about simply through accumulated playing hours, or perhaps it is a positive outcome of Japan’s access to rugby matches against top-tier teams in recent times. Either way, Japan’s recent style of play is definitely a new element to their game that is well earned.
Also, the injection of foreign players into the Japanese rugby world is a large factor in Japan’s new-found ability to play in-the-moment, imaginative rugby. Japanese rugby has seen many more foreign players enter their club and company leagues as well as their national team.
Many of these foreign players come from the Southern hemisphere, particularly from the more instinctual rugby nations. Quade Cooper, is one the latest big-name players to have signed with a Japanese company league team, in this case the Kintetsu Liners. Cooper is a prime example of a player with great instinct and a natural flair for imaginative rugby. With extensive experience and an organic ‘feel’ for the game, Cooper and players like him offer Japanese rugby exciting opportunities to grow their game as these international stars play in local leagues and tournaments as well as mentor developing rugby players.
The more Japan actively pursues exposure to this instinctual, intuitive rugby the more they will develop as a competitive rugby nation. As previously mentioned, two avenues have already proven effective: (1) more international fixtures with prolific, top-tier opposition and (2) recruitment of players who have, over lengthy careers, demonstrated their X-factor and ability to ‘read’ or ‘feel’.