Japan are on course to make a grave mistake by luring Eddie Jones back to head up the Brave Blossoms.
Calls for Jones to face the sack were sounded out even before the first whistle of Australia’s historic defeat to Wales as reports the day prior stated that Jones had secretly met with the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) officials ahead of the Rugby World Cup.
The bigwigs at the JRFU were believed to be tempting Jones with an offer to return to take charge of the Brave Blossoms with a cosy payment package filling his pockets.
This after Jones had signed a five-year deal with Rugby Australia through to their home World Cup in 2027, and a British and Irish Lions series in between.
While the debate still rages on whether the news affected his players – it probably did – as they produced a weak, woeful and quite frankly worthless performance against a far superior Wales team, one thing that hasn’t been discussed yet is whether Jones is actually a good fit for Japan.
Is Eddie Jones still the right fit for Japan?
Put the buzz or, in some cases, the tension he brings to press conferences, is Jones really a good fit for Japan still, and is he worth the price tag he carries?
A lot has changed since Jones inspired the Brave Blossoms to a miracle performance against the Springboks in Brighton in 2015.
🎥 What a match this was in Brighton. The biggest World Cup shock?pic.twitter.com/fCdIducj0a
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) January 4, 2022
Japan broke the ceiling in England eight years ago when Karne Hesketh crashed over the line to deliver a glorious victory over the mighty Springboks, but four years later, they rocketed to new heights by sending Scotland packing and proved that it was not just a one-off by humbling Ireland and topping their pool at their home World Cup.
Another shock result against the Boks was not to be as the eventual champions swatted the Blossoms aside in emphatic fashion as Jamie Joseph built on Jones’ success and took the side to a new level.
While Jones has proven pedigree – despite what his recent form with Australia suggests – he left Japan at the right time, allowing a new voice and tactics to take the spotlight.
Now, with Joseph departing, the JRFU are seemingly tempted to go backwards instead of embracing the same template that saw such improvement between 2015 and 2019.
While Joseph has been hugely successful with Japan, the side now looks a shadow of the team that inspired the nation in 2019. Of course, he hasn’t been allowed the same preparation as he was four years ago, with players insisting that they should play for their clubs, with the Sunwolves’ exit from Super Rugby not helping either. But the timing is right for change, and Joseph knows it, too.
However, Japan are in danger of falling into the same trap as New Zealand by backing the old, tried and tested voices instead of the proven local quality.
While Jones still keeps sharp with Japanese rugby through his association with Suntory Sungoliath, it stands to reason that he is nowhere near as clued up as the likes of Robbie Deans and Frans Ludeke.
The JFRU will also need to pay a hefty price to buy Jones out of his contract with Rugby Australia and are then reportedly set to offer him a mouth-watering salary.
However, those funds would surely be better off spent on hiring a top-notch coaching team led by one of the two coaches mentioned above – not forgetting to improve the pathways.
Former Bulls head coach Ludeke, who won two Super Rugby titles with the Pretoria-based side, is one of the names reportedly shortlisted for the role.
The South African has never really been mentioned when a top coaching position is available, but now he should be after guiding Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay to their maiden Japan Rugby League One title.
🥇DVISION 1 CHAMPIONS🥇
NTT JAPAN RUGBY LEAGUE ONE 2022-23
— JAPAN RUGBY LEAGUE ONE｜リーグワン🏉 (@LeagueOne_JP) May 20, 2023
It has been seven years in the making for Kubota under Ludeke, but they finally broke the Suntory, Kobe, Brave Lupus and Wild Knights stranglehold on the JRLO, formerly Top League, title. Since 2003, this is the only team that has been able to break the dominance the traditional top four had on the title.
While Ludeke did have the likes of former Wallaby Bernard Foley, former All Blacks centre Ryan Crotty and Springboks hooker Malcolm Marx in his side to help them lift the trophy, the achievement cannot be understated.
The “Kubota Way” was the phrase the multi-national coaching staff and leadership group used to unite the group.
“We have won in different ways,” Foley told Kyodo News back in May.
“We can grind out a win, or we can score great tries. We have the best attack but can play big-boy footy when we need to. And when our attack doesn’t work, our defence keeps us in the game.”
On the opposing touchline in the final was former Crusaders and Wallabies boss Deans, who has enjoyed another trophy-laden stint in club rugby. Since joining the Wild Knights, he has won five of the nine seasons on offer.
The side even went on a run of four-and-a-half years, 48-game winning streak. His achievements cannot be scoffed at, and if he is keen on taking on another Test job, then the JFRU should really be considering him; they would be stupid not to.
Both the two local coaches have been hugely successful during an extended period of time, for different reasons, as Deans built another dynasty while Ludeke may have just broken ground for one of his own.
The old Super Rugby bosses surely offer more knowledge of the current crop of Japanese talent, while they should be notably cheaper as their buy-outs will hardly hit the same heights as Jones’ at Australia.
Jones is, without a doubt, a world-class coach with a track record to prove it, but Japan needs to build long-term success, not just another sprinkle of miracle World Cup results.
🗣️ "He is accomplished, understands Australian rugby, and is everything that Eddie is not: cool-headed, inclined to stability in team selections, and well-liked by the media."
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) September 26, 2023
Be Brave Blossoms
The Sydney Morning Herald, who broke the story of Jones’ talks with Japan, reported that the job description read: “The primary purpose of this role is to ensure that the Brave Blossoms are successful on the international stage … over the next four-year term.”
JRFU should be thinking far more long-term than that, and backing Deans or Ludeke for the job has a better chance of achieving that.
Jones has regularly moved from job to job, and while he spent an extended time with England, it’s unlikely he will have another stint like that in Japan.
The JRFU need to embody the name of their rugby team and make the brave decision not to hire the hero of eight years ago but rather back the proven quality locally.
Even if they are to look beyond the pair, outgoing Italy head coach Kieran Crowley has had tremendous success with the Azzurri.
An alleged fallout between him and the Italian Rugby Federation has led to his sacking after the World Cup. He too would be a far more suitable fit for the Blossoms.
Japan officially have tier-one status, and if they are to deliver on what comes with that tag, then the JRFU needs to make the big calls, instead of the ‘safe’ ones.