Japan in line for more Tier One games after World Cup breakthrough

Tokyo (AFP) –


Japan's stunning Rugby World Cup performances have made the rest of the game "sit up and notice", World Rugby chief Bill Beaumont said Tuesday, vowing more top fixtures for the Brave Blossoms.

Wins over Scotland and Ireland have earned the Japanese team a place in history as the first Asian side to qualify for the World Cup quarter-finals and Beaumont said they now deserved a seat at the top table.

"I think currently the ranking of the Japanese team is seven, which when you've beaten the team that (was) two (Ireland), you sit up and take notice," said Beaumont.

Teams in world rugby are divided into so-called Tier One -- the 10 sides that play in the northern hemisphere Six Nations and the Rugby Championship in the south -- and Tier Two, the level below them.

Japan captain Michael Leitch made a point of saying his team was representing Tier Two in the quarter-final, as the only one of the have-nots to get through to the last eight.

Many coaches from the lower-ranked sides have pointed to a lack of fixtures against the top teams as a reason they have struggled to make progress.

But Beaumont said the number of fixtures between Tier One and Tier Two has increased by some 30 percent.

Rugby fixtures are scheduled some 12 years in advance and one-off games have to fit around the annual competitions of the Six Nations and Rugby Championship, as well as international tours and the British and Irish Lions tour.

World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper said the gap between the two groups was closing, despite only Japan making it through the pool stages.

The average points difference in match-ups between Tier One teams and Tier Two teams was 30 points, Gosper said, making Japan 2019 "the most competitive tournament ever".

- 'Pace and precision' -

Gosper noted "impressive performances across the board" by lower-ranked nations and players, pointing to Fiji's Semi Radradra, who topped the table for most carries, most metres run and most defenders beaten.

There has been some disappointment that none of the Pacific Island nations -- Fiji, Tonga or Samoa -- had qualified for the quarter-finals but Gosper said they had "accounted for themselves very well" in the tournament.

Some critics have pointed to Pacific island players being forced through financial hardship to seek their fortune in the northern hemisphere at clubs which, in some cases, then ban them from appearing in the World Cup.

"We come down very hard on that if we do see specific examples," said Gosper.

As for Japan, Beaumont vowed to set up more fixtures between the Brave Blossoms and Tier One teams, stressing that the Japanese could now pull big crowds.

"What we are trying to do is look at all our tournaments, all our competitions, so we can get more Tier One fixtures for Japan," he said.

"If I was the treasurer of any country, you'd want Japan to come and play you because you know they are going to attract a lot of spectators and interest."

He predicted fans would flock to watch not only a successful team but one that plays "an incredible style of rugby which relies on pace and precision".

"I certainly think for a lot of really established unions, they have almost changed the face of how rugby should be played."