Japan need early World Cup scalps to get populace behind them
Letter from Japan: Home side love their rules but several illogical demands will need to be broken
Ireland forwards coach Simon Easterby in Ichihara Suporeku Park, Tokyo. He provided plenty of words on set-piece mechanisms without offering any quotes. Photograph: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan
First rule of sports reporting is to gain access. Second rule of sports reporting is to unearth usable quotes. Dead late for the Japan’s unlisted press conference, thankfully several of their squad do not understand their adopted language either.
The journey from Otani hotel in Chiba to Otani hotel in the fanciest part of Tokyo took precisely one hour, 22 minutes and two trains before a wooded park opened into the most palatial of all the five-star mahogany doors we have darkened thus far.
The host team wants for nothing.
“Resources,” agreed Hendrik Tui, the Auckland born flanker with 44 caps including the Brighton miracle. “We have everything we need to prepare here.”
On sweaty arrival into the hotel at 1.04pm (four minutes is unforgivable to the locals) we ignorantly demand access to the “Japan media room”.
An implacably polite lobby host hears the gaijin demanding access to the “Japan meeting room” so she kindly guides us to the 16th floor and its stunning vista, where another helpful soul looks through a stack of important documents – “M.E.D.I.A” , we implore – before she walks into a room where Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown are discussing tactics ahead of the tournament opener against Russia on Friday in Ajinomoto Stadium.
This was not the only security breach of the afternoon. The Japanese love their rules but several illogical demands will need to be broken.
The reason for this visit to the hosts was rule number two.
There was no choice at all: source quotes from future Ireland opponents or file a story on the reconstruction of the post-Devin Toner lineout.
The esteemed Simon Easterby did provide plenty of words on set-piece mechanisms without offering any quotes. The assistant coach was ably assisted by reserve hooker Niall Scannell and occasional lineout caller Iain Henderson, so we deemed it essential to ride the rails.
It’s not that Japanese quotes were any better, it’s just that there is enough interesting Schmidt and Bundee Aki lines in the Monday morning papers. We needed to see what was happening out in World Cup-land. And get as far away from Chiba for as long as possible.
Here’s what we learned: the Japanese rugby team need early scalps to get their populace behind them, especially considering the squad is made up of so many faces from far-flung rugby countries.
Initially, we gathered zero information from the native-speaking players. Later we discovered that outhalf Yu Tamura got roasted for his performance in the recent 41-7 stuffing by the Springboks. Tamura defended himself. The journalist agreed to disagree. We sensed the hostile silence but the scene lacked a translator.
“The pressure is on to deliver a win at home,” Tui conceded. “We are playing Six Nations teams here in Japan and that brings a lot of pressure but we just had a game against South Africa, and while things didn’t go to plan I think it was the perfect preparation for us heading into a World Cup.”
Funnily enough, Easterby provided similar reasoning when the recent dismantling of the Irish set piece, by Maro Itoje and George Kruis, was broached. “Even though we lost too many we had some real quality lineout ball in that game.”
Accentuate positives – even where none seem evident – in “media rooms”. Iron out negatives in “meeting rooms”.
Ireland are hiding out in Chiba – nobody will come looking for them – while Japan are beginning to feel the chill off an indifferent nation; they must reach the knockout stages of their own tournament or baseball, sumo and so many other pursuits will wash over them.
Failure to escape Pool A and the mouth-masked Tokyo youths will keep walking past the gigantic posters of rugby warriors that barely pierce their collective psyche as it is.
Granted the World Cup has yet to begin, but rugby still feels like a pebble tossed into this vast metropolis. Only Japan victories will change that.
“Our physicality is getting really good,” said James Moore, Japan’s Aussie lock with hard eyes. “We are pretty world class in that now.”
World class in hardness. Aren’t we all?
“We are focusing on the pressure that the World Cup’s gonna bring and performing during that pressure. We have being doing a few little exercises.”
Bingo. We knew there was an angle buried in this neverending day.
Japan have brought in clinical psychologist Dave Galbraith, also known as “HOGman”, (Habit Of Greatness man); a Kiwi (aren’t they all?) who previously helped the All Blacks Sevens to “live their greatest lives”.
“The Japanese style of rugby has always been a lot of offloads, a running game and just keeping the ball alive,” said Moore. “Our plan is to keep that going.”
Tony Brown’s style in full bloom?
“Tony gives us the confidence to do that, but it’s always going to be exciting when Japan play.”
Beats an article on lineouts. Quotes matter. Even with dodgy access.