Japan's rugby league wants to poach Marcus Smith from England, and hopes Eddie Jones can help – iNews

The boss of the thriving club league in Japan hopes Eddie Jones will be “a bridge” to more England internationals taking time out from the Premiership to play in the Far East.
England head coach Jones has spent more than 20 years as a consultant to Suntory Sungoliath, a founder club of Japan Rugby League One (JRLO).
Saracens’ England second row George Kruis said he asked Jones’s advice before making his move to JRLO team Panasonic Wild Knights last year, a path also taken by Alex Goode and Freddie Burns.
And Genichi Tamatsuka, the prominent Japanese businessman who is chairman of the JRLO, told i he would like Jones to continue making those connections, and that England fly-half Marcus Smith would be an ideal recruit to the competition given a big-money reboot after Japan staged a commercially successful World Cup in 2019.
Recent reports stated a Japanese club will play in the new World Club Cup slated to start some time after the 2023 World Cup, which is also when England players could choose to boost their earnings by following Kruis, Goode and Burns plus numerous New Zealanders, Australians and Tongans to Japan’s top 18 corporate-backed clubs.
Each Japanese team can field three overseas stars, so more than 50 places are up for grabs, with South Africa’s Faf de Klerk and Damian de Allende newly poached from Sale in the Premiership and Munster in the URC.
“It’s important my friend, our friend, Eddie Jones should recommend players to go to Japan Rugby League One,” said Tamatsuka. “That’s the critical, essential, element.
“Eddie is a really great supporter for Japan and Japan Rugby League One, and the national team and so on. He is obviously quite an influential person in England rugby. And he knows very well about Japanese rugby, how we are evolving for the future.
“So if Eddie can be the kind of bridge between the England players and the Japan Rugby League, that is really good. I met him many times. I had a dinner with him. And, you know, he coached my ex-rugby team, Keio University.”
Asked which England player might augment the Japanese league, Tamatsuka replied: “A player like Marcus Smith, definitely, he can be a superstar and popular in the Japanese country. [Maro] Itoje, he’d be really good. He’s very powerful.
“We have been busy, on how we can expand our visibility in terms of broadcasting inside of the Japanese domestic market. But in the future, if the England people started watching our leagues, as an attractive event, that is really good. To realise that, I think we need more players from England.”
England players who go overseas forfeit their place in the national team but New Zealand, South Africa and Australia have either given their star names sabbaticals in Japan or simply carried on selecting the likes of Quade Cooper, Samu Kerevi and Marika Koroibete, with All Blacks fly-half Richie Mo’unga rumoured as the next big recruit to Jones’s Suntory.
Individual signings are the responsibility of each club, not the league, but Hajime Shoji, chief operating officer of JRLO, told i: “What Eddie did previously, he played a very important role to get some players from New Zealand and Australia, and I think now he is getting some more clearer information about England players, in terms of who is suitable to Japan.”
Rugby is a passion for Tamatsuka, whose day job is as director of Lotte Holdings, a large retail business in Japan and part of a wider Asian corporation. Tamatsuka played against Lions greats Rob Andrew and Gavin Hastings when they were at Cambridge University and he was touring the UK with Keio University in 1985.
Smith’s Philippines heritage on his mother’s side could be a perfect calling card in Asia – and while his club Harlequins might see the idea as fanciful, Tamatsuka says everyone could gain.
“We have 10 of the 12 teams in our Division One learning by the global-class head coaches from New Zealand and Australia, and there are many key players as a catalyst to really push up the level,” said Tamatsuka. “Asia is obviously the growing market for the future, as many organisations have calculated, and Japan is located in the centre. How much we can attract a big country like China, or south-east Asian countries? We have to try. In that sense, we need more co-operation with the European teams, European unions and European people.”
There has been adverse media comment that Japan’s comparatively short season of 16 matches does not keep top players ready for Test duty, and Tamatsuka said: “I had a quite good discussion with [Japan wing Kotaro] Matsushima. He was playing in the Top 14 in France [for Clermont Auvergne]… quite a long season, playing maybe around 28, 29 games. In addition to that they have European Cups. We should not go like a Top 14, but somewhere in the middle. We need more games.”
The idea of a Japanese club signing Smith and trading on his part-Asian heritage may make much more sense when spitballing in a Tokyo boardroom than at Harlequins or England Rugby’s offices at Twickenham, but could such a move work for all concerned in the near future?
Rugby’s governing bodies are under pressure to reduce the number of matches being played by top stars like Smith, and a new professional game agreement is due to reset the relationship between England, the Premiership clubs and the players after the next World Cup, in 2024.
Domestic clubs are already unhappy about their end of their deal when they lose top-drawer England players for around half the forthcoming season, while struggling to balance the books.
And there is chat within the game about an Indian Premier League-style scenario developing for the likes of Smith and Maro Itoje, the Saracens, England and Lions lock who was close to agreeing a short-term contract with moneybags French outfit Racing 92 while his club were in the second division last year. England would almost certainly have departed from their policy of not selecting Itoje under that arrangement.
Now imagine a scenario in which a player’s workload is capped at 25 matches a year by the powers that be. Smith or Itoje could have a short, lucrative stint in Japan, while remaining available for England and working out a shorter-term arrangement at their home clubs.
This may seem a step back for the English teams but if their homegrown stars are still around for the business end of the season, they could also vary their regulations to allow in some spectator-friendly overseas megastars – who could be paid for a cheaper six months, say, instead of 12.
When the ex-All Blacks coach Steve Hansen last year proposed a quickfire 12-a-side tournament involving franchise teams in the European summer, it pointed to this piecemeal approach to a player’s earning potential.
All the above would require a fresh look at the global calendar – but that is what the sport’s organisers have been promising us for the last few years. And the 2023 World Cup is widely regarded as the main crossroads on the path to any significant change
All rights reserved. © 2021 Associated Newspapers Limited.

source

Leave a Comment