TOKYO, Oct 20 — Japan coach Jamie Joseph insisted rugby in the country was in a “good place” despite his team’s 26-3 defeat by South Africa that saw them exit the World Cup at the quarter-final stage.
The loss brought to an end the Brave Blossoms adventure on home soil, with the Springboks going on to play Wales in the semi-finals next weekend in Yokohama.
“I’m just really proud of the Japan team,” said Joseph, who used the last five minutes of the match as an example of how Japan was well placed.
“We were down by 20-odd points and every guy showed the ability to come back, to never lay down,” he said. “That will help us after the World Cup.
“I can’t tell you about what’s next. I know that Japanese rugby is in a good place now.”
Joseph referenced the recall at the age of 38 of lock Luke Thompson and James Moore’s transformation from average club rugby player, allied with the “younger Japanese players have come through, that’s the future for Japanese rugby”.
“It’s been a lot of work by a lot of people.”
Joseph, whose side was only 5-3 down at half-time, said they had expected an “attritional” battle with a tough Bok team.
“They were able to snuff us out,” the former All Black said.
A ferocious Springbok defensive effort nullified Japan’s much vaunted attacking dangers that had helped them rack up wins over Six Nations giants Ireland, Scotland, Samoa and Russia to top their pool.
“We played really well in the last four games, but South Africa were another step up, you have to take your hat off, they’re a good side.”
Japan’s future, Joseph insisted, was bright although he questioned whether the current structures of the Japanese Top League and university league might need an overhaul.
The lack of central professional contracts also meant it was “hard to maintain consistency in selection.”
“Everyone’s watching us, rugby hasn’t changed, it’s just that there’s an audience that has created a lot of noise for the team,” he added.
“The story for me is that there are obviously good rugby players here and if you can put the right system in place, it’s going to keep on growing.”
Japan’s Kiwi-born captain Michael Leitch, who arrived in his adopted country as a 15-year-old schoolboy, said South Africa had been “wonderful”.
“They were very strong, notably in the scrum and maul,” he said.
“But we were able to fight right to the end for the full 80 minutes.”
Leitch, however, said he was “not satisfied”. “I’m just proud to be a member of this team.
“I told them ‘chins up’, don’t look down, I told them I’m so proud of them and they should be proud.” — AFP