12:36 17 March 2017
Rugby: Japan to host more Tier 1 games, but at what cost?
By Rich Freeman
TOKYO, March 17, Kyodo
Japan can expect to play more of the big boys of world rugby after the sport's governing body announced Thursday in Dublin plans for a global season from 2020.
But questions still remain as to what effect the new season will have on the top Japanese players.
"Agreement on an optimized global calendar that provides certainty and sustainability over the decade beyond Rugby World Cup 2019 represents an historic milestone for the global game," World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said in a press release. "But more than that, this agreement has player welfare and equity at heart, driving certainty and opportunities for emerging rugby powers and laying the foundations for a more compelling and competitive international game, which is great for unions, players and fans."
Among the plans put forward by World Rugby are Tier One tours to the Pacific Islands, Japan, Canada, the United States, Georgia and Romania.
However, unless there is a major change to the way Japan is regarded, the incoming tours would take place in July, when temperatures in the cities likely to host such games are generally in the 30s C and humidity is around 90 percent.
This is because Japan is generally treated as a Southern Hemisphere country in terms of when it tours and the June test window has been pushed back a month in order to "boost season harmony."
"The optimized calendar retains three existing annual international windows (Northern Hemisphere, Southern Hemisphere and November), but the June window will be replaced by a new July window," said World Rugby.
"This will enable the Super Rugby season to run uninterrupted and enhance preparation for July tests for all unions, while also providing a strong base to support the continued growth of the club game."
Throwing a further spanner into the works, as far as Japan is concerned, is the timing of the Top League -- unless there is a radical reduction in the number of teams in the competition -- as the domestic league in Japan is played based on the Northern Hemisphere seasons.
Under the proposed plans, Japan's top players would play for the Sunwolves from February to the end of June. They would then play test matches for the first three weeks of July before reporting to their Top League club at the end of the month,
The TL season would then kick off in the middle of August, take a break for the first three weeks in November for the test window before concluding at the end of December/beginning of January, giving little time for recovery and rest.
Interestingly, the participants in the global calendar meeting, which was held in San Francisco in January, did not include one member from Japan or Asia.
The World Rugby Council will now consider at its annual meeting in Kyoto in May the relevant amendments needed regarding player release for the revised test windows.