Captain Sakate says local league gives Japan World Cup boost

·3-min read
FILE - Japan's Atsushi Sakate, front, tackles England's Alex Lozowski during their rugby union international match at Twickenham stadium in London, Nov. 17, 2018. Sakate believes the improved standard of the Japanese professional league will help the Brave Blossoms' preparation for the Rugby World Cup in France later this year. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

National captain Atsushi Sakate believes the improved standard of the Japanese professional league will help the Brave Blossoms’ preparation for the Rugby World Cup in France this year.

Japan’s buildup will be more limited than in 2019 when it hosted the World Cup and reached the quarterfinals for the first time after beating Ireland and Scotland in the group stage.

The Brave Blossoms won’t come together under coach Jamie Joseph until June and the players otherwise will concentrate on their clubs in Japan Rugby League One. In 2019, Japan gathered in February and remained together until the World Cup began in September.

Sakate, who plays for the champion Panasonic Wild Knights, believes Japan will still be well prepared, despite a more limited preparation which will include matches against a New Zealand XV, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa.

He said the JRLO, which debuted last year, was a step up over the previous Japan Top League and that the standard had improved again this season, helped by the many top overseas players in the competition.

“In Japan League One, the level of physicality and game speed are improving which very much is a good foundation for us towards the Rugby World Cup in France,” Sakate said through an interpreter.

“In 2019, the Japan team started their campaign in February and spent a very much longer time together. But this time we will assemble in June for the first time to start our campaign so the physicality and improvement in League One are very much important for the players.

“So far, I really feel League One is very much contributing to the national team’s campaign and preparation for the tournament.”

Sakate said coach Joseph was in close touch with League One coaches and able to monitor the form and fitness of national team players.

“While I say we won’t assemble until June, already the co-ordination between the Japan coaching team and the clubs has happened and that really encourages us to be ready for the big stage in France,” he added.

Sakate believes Japan League One is of a high enough standard to maintain the form of test players. While teams can still play a fast-paced style, the physical side of the game in Japan was increasing.

“If you look back at last season, I can definitely say the level had gone up and improved,” he said. “Every time after I had played a game, the physical toll on my body was much greater than the previous season.

“Those aspects of play including the scrum, the maul and contact area are much higher now. Another thing I’d like to mention is that one of the attractive things about League One is that each club has a different characteristic in their game. So you can see a lot of different styles in one league.”

Japan is drawn with England, Argentina, Russia and Samoa in its World Cup pool. After beating South Africa in 2015 and Ireland and Scotland in 2019 it faces pressure to produce another giant-killing performance against England.

“We have to have a very clear target for each of the games we play,” Sakate said, adding Japan's high-tempo style was “unique compared to other teams.”

"I feel we can be very competitive with this style of play as well. What we now need to work on, we now know our opposing teams at the World Cup, so we need to be clear on what part of our style of rugby they want to play against. By knowing that we will be better prepared.”

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