Japan head coach Eddie Jones has praised his side for changing the perception of Japanese rugby after they returned home from the World Cup to a hero's welcome.
The Brave Blossoms had only won one World Cup encounter prior to this year's edition, but became the first team to be knocked out of the World Cup at the group stage despite winning three matches, having claimed a historic win over South Africa, while also defeating Samoa and the USA.
Speaking at a news conference in Tokyo on the team's return from England, Jones lauded his charges.
“These are the new sports heroes of Japan,” said Jones.
“They’ve changed Japanese rugby. They’ve worked hard, but, more importantly, they have played with courage, not only physical courage but mental courage – mental courage of playing the Japanese way. It would not matter if we went out to play in a pink jersey, now people would recognise the Japanese style of play.
“To finish the tournament ranked ninth in the world, to finish ahead of countries like England, is an absolutely amazing success story. But like any success story the next chapter’s so important.
“The next chapter for Japanese rugby is making sure it can find new players with more talent and desire and to make sure this group of players keeps improving.”
Jones believes that the next step for Japanese rugby is to ensure that youngsters are groomed in a manner which will allow them to reach their potential and thrive at the highest level.
“The quality of Japanese players is very high. To keep going in the right direction, there has to be mindset changes in Japanese rugby," he explained.
“If you have a fast man at university, if you make him train six times a week, and you train like a middle-distance runner, then he’s not going to be fast. And that’s what happens. Usain Bolt does not train to be a marathon runner, he trains to be a sprinter.
“The high school, university and Top League teams need to train rugby players to be rugby players. If that happens then the depth of players that play in Japan will be increased. The competition between the players will increase, the desire will increase, and therefore you get a stronger national team.”
Jones' time at the helm of the Japan side has come to an end, with the Australian moving to South Africa to take charge of Super Rugby outfit the Stormers.
The 55-year-old has admitted that it is tough to leave Japan after such a successful spell, but believes that it is the players rather than the coaches that have made the Japan side what it is today.
“The result of the World Cup is not about me, it’s about the players," he said. "The fans should be saying they want these players to continue. These are the guys that made the result.
“There will be another coach come and probably be better that me. The way this team develops will be the quality of the players here.
“It’s always sad when you leave a team that you love.”