After 4 World Cups, Thompson sees bright future for Japan

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – After nearly 20 years in the Japanese professional league and after four World Cups with Japan, New Zealand-born Luke Thompson has been left alone to watch. Growth and development of rugby in Japan.

When he first arrived in Japan at the age of 22, he was a strange foreign player, then he played in a new professional tournament. Most importers are at the end of their careers, looking for lucrative contracts before retiring.

Thompson spoke to the Associated Press from his deer farm in Cust near Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island during a break before returning to his club Urayasu D-Rocks, who play in the second division of the Japan League. .

The new league season kicks off in Japan on Saturday, and it’s a much different environment than the one Thompson experienced when he first landed there. Thompson saw the league grow both in height and quality to become a magnet for the world’s top players, not at the end, but at the height of their careers.

Meanwhile, the Japanese national team is less than a year away from another World Cup. Thompson played in the 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019 Rugby World Cups and saw the so-called Brave Blossoms really grow to be a huge killer in the last two world tournaments.

Thomson went through that period of improvement. He first played for Japan in 2007 when he became a natural and was selected for the national team by coach John Kirwan, one of the great New Zealand All Blacks. That year’s World Cup was not good for Japan. Its only minor victory was a 12-12 draw with Canada in the group stage.

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Thompson believes that improvement in the Japanese team began at that time, first under Kirwan and then under Eddie Jones, the Australian who led the team to the 2015 World Cup, where it did. Surprise the rugby world by beating South Africa.

“Look, now we have entered (World Cup 2007) with expectations that are not as high as they could be,” Thompson said. “We’re just been there and we want to enjoy playing as much as we can, but we really do not believe we can compete. One of the things Eddie (Jones) brings to the team is expectations and beliefs.

“The process was started by (Kirwan) who improved his professionalism in the Japanese team and tried to increase the physical fitness of the players and the expectations surrounding their play. That started with (Kirwan), but Eddie really took it to another level and developed a new belief, gained player acquisition, and it translated into the top league as well.

Thompson said the physique from 2004 to the present has “greatly improved” with the introduction of Japan-based Sunwolves into Super Rugby, and “Jones’ team development is amazing. “From 2011-15.

He described Jones, who had just been sacked as England manager, as a “dichotomy of personalities.”

“He was a great man when it came to rugby in terms of his ability to squeeze all the potential out of what he had,” Thompson said. “But the way he works, what I do not believe is sustainable. Those seven years that he was with England can sometimes be too long. A four-year stay with him may be enough for Japan.

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Thompson “retired” after the 2015 World Cup but was called back for the 2019 game by current national team coaches Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown. Japan went on to achieve historic success by beating Ireland and Scotland in the group stages to reach the quarter-finals. .

“The expectation in 2019 is for the team to do well at the World Cup, but the only way you can do well is to do better than the last team. The only way they can be better than the team (2015) is to reach the quarter-finals. That’s a difficult thing to do, but Jamie and Tony have come in to change, reset what will work and take It goes to another level.

Thompson said Japan could surprise again at the upcoming World Cup, even if they could go in “with a goal on their backs.”

“No one will ever be put to sleep by Japan,” he said. “They lost a few pieces that were important to them. They need a few men to come back. It does not have much depth in some important places, but if it falls right, they will surely knock on the door of “The quarter-finals.”

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The 2019 World Cup in Japan introduced many Japanese to rugby for the first time and built support for the sport, and that made the club’s game a huge crowd.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hampered that growth, but the new Japan League One debuted last season to garner widespread acclaim, winning new audiences at home and around the world. The league has many of the world’s top players and many more are expected to travel to Japan after the next World Cup.

“There are some great talents in the league right now,” Thompson said. “Some of the stars are there and it’s fun to play football.

“I think maybe the number of foreigners in the league has increased and it may be necessary to look at the development of Japanese players. “But in terms of product and the fun of playing is great.”

The new league has strict rules that limit the number of foreign players each team can hire and how they can use them.

Urayasu D-Rocks were relegated from the top flight at the end of last season and Thompson will soon join the team again on a mission to regain some ground. His teammates include former Wallaby Israel Folau.

“We are all about advertising this year,” he said. “We all want to get back to the part we think we belong to and deserve.”


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