Scott Robertson said in his interview with the 1014 that the biggest change since the last World Cup is defence.
Also, Steve pointed out that defence was the main problem for Japan in his video about Pool A teams at the next World Cup.
After the November tests, what state is the Japanese defence in now?
We will compare the best defensive performance, in my opinion, by Japan under Eddie Jones (against Samoa at the World Cup) and under Jamie Joseph (against Tonga this November).
One of the most interesting defensive tactics used against Samoa in the World Cup was for their defensive scrums out wide.
As you can see below, fly-half Kosei Ono and flanker Michael Leitch switch positions. It’s suspected that this strategy was used to fix the problem of the leaking tackles in the first-five channel on defence (a problem a lot of national sides tend to have, I think Gareth pointed this out in a video). Especially when Kosei Ono weighs 10 kilograms less than his opposite number, Tusi Pisi.
But this strategy was only used in defensive scrums out-wide (e.g. the strategy was used again in the 31st-minute scrum but not for the 43rd-minute scrum) probably because the direction of the first pass is a lot less predictable.
The defence system was highly reliant on fitness. Eddie Jones said in his pre-World Cup press conference, Japan’s competitive edge was fitness to create numerical advantages offensively and defensively to counter the size disadvantage.
In the picture below, Japan has five defenders running and two defenders out wide creating an overlap on the outside channel.
As Eddie Jones mentioned, this strategy only works if the team trainings start from five o’clock in the morning. They must become the fittest side in the world (believe it or not, he was being serious).
On the other hand, under Jamie Joseph, the spine of the pack is key to the defensive system. And also a defensive line that narrows down the attack.
During the one play on the picture below, hooker Shota Horie and number 8 Amanaki Mafi are involved in around five tackles each. The picture shows us that Japan’s defence line runs diagonally inwards to avoid the ball being passed out-wide. And thus the forwards make the tackle. If the ball is passed to the next receiver, Kenki Fukuoka (fastest player in the team) will quickly come up to extrapolate the diagonal line.
But the Japanese fly-half, Yu Tamura, was larger than his opposite number. So a leaking tackle by the fly-half is not a large threat in this match. As you can see below, the defensive line runs hard at a wider attack line, a tactic ultimately not too different from the defensive strategy in open play explained above.
This defensive strategy could be very risky at the World Cup. The reason is that Japan will face world class fly-halves like Jonny Sexton and Finn Russell. They can put on an accurate cross-field kick and concede a clean-break. An example would be one of the late tries Japan conceded against France this November.
In conclusion, the main gap between Eddie Jones’ and Jamie Joseph’s Japan is fitness. Because the fitter the players are, the wider the defensive line can be.
Author: Kaito Goto