Rugby Thoughts – Super Rugby in Japan

On Monday this week Rich Freeman (@FreemanrugbyJPN) broke the news that Eddie Jones would leave Japanese rugby after the Rugby World Cup. This triggered all kinds of speculation about the feasibility of the Super Rugby side that is scheduled to join the competition next year. Here is a little history of what’s been going on and my thoughts on how they should have gone about it.

When the franchise in Japan announced my first thought was “how is this going to fit in with the existing professional structure in Japan?” Anyone who has seen the battles going on in European rugby will be very aware that excluding the existing clubs in the decision making leads to conflict. At the time there was no explanation given and there hasn’t been since. Everything we know is from conversations rather than a proper press release.

Since the Argentine and Japanese franchise were announced there has been contrasting information coming out of each camp. Argentina has announced that they will only be selecting their national side from the Super Rugby franchise and have been announcing the signing of players. They now have nearly a complete squad and whilst I question the wisdom of selecting a national side from one franchise, it does look like they are on track to be ready for the Super Rugby Season. The only announcement I have seen from the Japanese franchise has been a competition to name the franchise and even that I believe has missed its announcement date. According to which reports you read there are 2 or 4 players signed, either way that’s a long way from a full squad. Also there are key members of the national squad that have signed for other Super Rugby franchises. Whilst I don’t think it’s been announced, the reports from interviews were that the Japanese franchise would be the national team plus some friends. If franchise eventuates, that is not going to be the case.

So the Japanese franchise only has a couple of players and the director of rugby has just announced he’s leaving. So what’s been going on? The Japanese rugby union is a semi-professional organisation with limited funds. The reason that so many international players go over there to play is the money that the Top League teams or companies have to spend. The union was expecting to be able to have access to the players contracted to the companies and that the companies would continue to pay the players when they are on Super Rugby duty. I think it’s obvious that the companies have an issue with this as what is in it for them? Understandably the players, who get paid by the companies, don’t want to jeopardise their income by upsetting their employers. So at the moment it looks like a stalemate.

From the outside the key issue has been a lack of communication and an agreement on a long-term plan for Japanese rugby. I’m no expert on Japanese rugby but I would have thought that these are the steps that they should have taken and could be the path to a resolution if all parties want the same outcome:

  1. Agree what the end goal is. The current situation seems to have come about by the union spotting an opportunity and going for it, rather than part of a long-term plan. I think that the long-term goal should be something like:
    1. Either an Asian or Japanese conference in Super Rugby. So either 3 or 5 teams from Japan in Super Rugby.
    2. The Top League becomes a ITM/Currie Cup like competition with 8 to 5 teams getting associated with each Super Rugby franchise.
  2. Agree the steps to get there and give the Top League companies a share in those franchises so that they are fully involved. Clearly Japanese rugby is not ready to supply and support 3-5 Super Rugby franchises. Something like a twelve-year plan with team(s) being added every four years would provide stability and a plan that people could invest in.

I know that there will be plenty of people who will think I have lost my mind that Japan can support a Super Rugby conference, but I think that is the way to grow Super Rugby.

If your interested in Japanese rugby then Rich Freeman is the man in the know, you can follow him on twitter, he’s also part of Rugby News Japan on Facebook and writes in Kyodo News. BTW Rich has had no input into this I just like his work.

Edit: After I posted this, it was reported that the Japanese Union believe they have enough players signed. Who they are hasn’t been released and they still don’t have a coach.

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