Japan happy to sacrifice ranking points
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Japan coach Jamie Joseph says he's happy to sacrifice ranking points in order to better prepare the Brave Blossoms to compete at the World Cup they're hosting in two years' time.
Japan took great strides at the last World Cup in England, securing their first ever win over South Africa, 34-32, while winning three of their four matches, but narrowly missing out on progress to the knock-out stages.
This time, on home soil, the aim is to make it to the last eight at least, although they face a tough draw in Pool A alongside Ireland and Scotland.
And New Zealander Joseph admits the rebuilding process since the last global showpiece has been difficult given the turnover in personnel.
"Since the last World Cup there's been two years and there has been a lot of changes in the team," the 48-year-old, a former forward who represented both the All Blacks and Japan during his playing career, said on Wednesday.
"I'm still confident that we're going to have enough time to prepare properly for the next World Cup but we've got a long way to go."
Japan will play France in an international in Paris on Saturday looking for a first win over a tier-one nation since that glorious September day in Brighton two years ago.
Only eight of the players who travelled to England for the 2015 World Cup will be involved on Saturday, but the match-winning try-scorer against the Springboks Karne Hesketh and star kicking fullback Ayumu Goromaru are not amongst them.
In order to dream of beating the tier-one nations, Joseph says it's important to play them more often, even if the defeats cost them world ranking positions.
"Our strengths are that the players are very quick, very skilful [but] we've got a very small pack," added Joseph, whose team are currently ranked 11 in the world.
"We played and we will play tier-one teams this year and by the next year in terms of ranking that's going to take us back, but in terms of experience that's going to give us some good things.
"That's why we are playing these teams prior to the World Cup."
Japan have never beaten France, although they've played only three full internationals and another six matches against a French XV.
The last time the two sides met was at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, with the French coming out on top 47-21.
But Japan have had credible victories against tier-two nations Romania - 33-21 in June - and Tonga - 39-6 last weekend in Toulouse - this year, although their matches against the world's elite have left them bruised.
The touring Irish - depleted due to British and Irish Lions commitments - gave them two hidings in June, 50-22 and 35-13, while at the start of the month Australia turned up in Yokohama and ran in nine tries to three in a 63-30 thumping.
Next year Japan risk suffering another chastening experience with a match against the All Blacks planned.
There is at least the chance to instil some continuity, though, with Joseph also coaching the Sunwolves Super Rugby franchise, although hamstrung by some of the country's best players being tied down to club sides in the national Top League, they have been little short of an embarrassment, winning just three of 30 matches so far in that competition and twice conceding more than 90 points in a match.
It's a tough ask for Joseph and just how tough should become even more apparent come Saturday against a team smarting from a run of five straight defeats.