Coronavirus stalls Japan's World Cup momentum

TOKYO • Japan's national rugby union team will not play again this year because of safety fears related to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Japanese Rugby Football Union (JRFU) announced yesterday.

Head coach Jamie Joseph said Japan, who had games against England and Wales cancelled earlier this year due to the outbreak, had been due to play against Europe's top teams in an eight-nation tournament later this year.

The Brave Blossoms have not played a Test match since their quarter-final loss to eventual champions South Africa at last year's Rugby World Cup on home soil.

"We have concluded there will be no Test matches this year," JRFU chairman Kensuke Iwabuchi told a media briefing. "As a staff, we are thinking proactively how to use the momentum of our achievement at the World Cup to move forward."

Since signing a new contract following Japan's stunning World Cup run, Joseph has stressed the importance of having Test matches against Tier One nations.

"We were allocated Test matches to play in the eight nations," he said. "That would have been a wonderful tournament to be a part of, not only this year but for the future.

"It would give our players the experience they need to develop their game and test it against some of the best teams."

Japan's Top League domestic competition was cancelled earlier this year because of the pandemic, meaning most Japanese players have barely played competitive rugby in the past year.

Joseph added Japan's inability to train extensively was another reason to scrap their remaining Tests.

"The right decision has been made. We still have plenty of time to prepare ourselves for the next World Cup," he said.

Separately, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said yesterday she was working to ensure New Zealand's strict quarantine rules do not stop the All Blacks hosting the Wallabies in the Bledisloe Cup, set to be played on Oct 17 and 24.

New Zealand last week lost hosting rights for the November-December Rugby Championship to Australia because of strict border controls. On similar concerns about the Bledisloe Cup, Ardern assured fans "we'll be able to find a workable solution".

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2020, with the headline 'Coronavirus stalls Japan's World Cup momentum'. Print Edition | Subscribe