Japan's Joseph says Sunwolves role will reap Rugby World Cup rewards

Daniel HICKS
Sunwolves coach Jamie Joseph (C) is aiming for a top-five finish this year

Japan and Sunwolves coach Jamie Joseph said Thursday that his players will soon reap the benefits of him being able to "roll up his sleeves" and get stuck in on the training pitch.

Former All Black Joseph, who has coached Japan since 2016, replaced Filo Tiatia at the Tokyo-based Sunwolves in September.

He said that working daily with the players will boost both the Super Rugby side this season and the Japan national team as they prepare for their home World Cup next year.

"The main reason being involved in the Sunwolves for myself and the other coaches is really to get more time with the players to develop our game," Joseph told AFP via videolink from South Africa where his side will face the Coastal Sharks in Durban on Saturday.

The Sunwolves will play a "home" game in Hong Kong for the first time this season when they face South Africa's Western Stormers at Mongkok Stadium on May 19.

"The workload to do both jobs and other things is really challenging, but to get in here and roll up our sleeves with the coaching team just outweighs the negatives," said Joseph.

The Sunwolves won only three Super Rugby matches in their first two seasons in the competition and have lost both their opening matches this year.

But Joseph predicted an upswing soon. "We are faced with a few injuries, which are always a part of Super Rugby," he said.

"The competition goes for six months. In the next two to three weeks we will start to see some of our players coming back into the set-up," said Joseph.

"The (Auckland) Blues have lost their first two games, (Wellington) Hurricanes lost their first game, there is no doubt that we will see them towards the top end of the ledger later in the season."

The New Zealander coached the Otago Highlanders to the Super Rugby title in 2015 and has set lofty targets for both his teams -- a top-five finish for the Sunwolves this year and Japan reaching the knockout phase at the World Cup.

He has a hard act to follow: in 2015 under Eddie Jones the Brave Blossoms famously beat South Africa but became the only team in World Cup history to win three matches and fail to progress from their pool.

"I'm focused on the calibre of rugby we're playing," said Joseph of the national team.

"We want to be a team that is exciting and also plays a style of rugby that fits the personalities of the side.

"We are not South Africa, Australia or New Zealand, we are Japan and Super Rugby is the vehicle that will help us develop our game and perform in the World Cup."