World Rugby are set to announce China will host 2019 Rugby World Cup, following ‘significant and disturbing evidence’ from independent visits by Animal Welfare Organisations to venues that were set to host the tournament in Japan.
The sudden decision will come as a shock to most players, fans and officials, most notably Japan, who will now lose their place as a participating country at 2019 Rugby World Cup to China, ranked 68th in the world rankings. China will therefore become the lowest ranked nation to appear at Rugby World Cup.
Extensive research conducted at notable stadiums in the Kanto region that were in line to host 2019 Rugby World Cup, including Yokohama Stadium, Tokyo Stadium and Kumagaya Stadium indicated an abnormal level of underground mammals residing under the surface of the field. Widespread setts of the Asian Badger, a species predominantly native to parts of central Asia such as Mongolia and Kazakhstan, were found residing underneath the surface at some venues.
Guidance from the Japan Residential & Farm Union (JRFU), a NPO dedicated to protecting and safeguarding the lives of underground mammals in Japan and East Asia, issued a stern warning to World Rugby, which has not been taken lightly.
Under pressure from the JRFU and several other animal welfare charities, World Rugby will announce in the coming days the decision to move next year’s tournament to China. It is understood South Africa and USA were also candidates to host the competition at short notice, however, World Rugby were keen to keep the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Asia to grow the game in the continent.
It is no secret that World Rugby are keen to grow the game of rugby in Asia, with 140,986 children taking part in World Rugby’s Get into Rugby programme in 2017. Significant investment from Alisports has paved the way for numerous training facilities to built across the country. China Rugby Football Union are understood to be in discussions with Hong Kong Rugby Football Union about merging unions to create a stronger team to face Europe 2 in the opening game of the tournament in Guangzhou.
Iconic Welsh referee Nigel Owens has been named as an official for Japan's tests in June against Italy (x2) and Georgia.
The 46-year-old will take charge of the Brave Blossom's match against Georgia at Toyota Stadium on June 23rd, in addition to being assistant referee for the two tests against Italy.
Australian referee Nic Berry will officiate Japan v Italy at Oita Dome on June 9th, while New Zealand official Nick Briant will referee the same fixture in Kobe a week later.
Meanwhile, Japan referee Shuhei Kubo has been named as the official to take charge of Canada v Scotland on June 9th.
Japan head coach Jamie Joseph today announced his 33-man squad for June tests against Romania and Ireland. Michael Leitch returns to the team for the first time since the 2015 RWC, having opted to sit out of the 2016 Brave Blossoms fixtures, while Hendrik Tui is also named in the squad by Joseph.
Japan play host to Romania in Fukuoka on June 10th, before facing two tests against Ireland in Shizuoka and Tokyo in the following weeks.
Derek Carpenter, who has qualified to represent to Japan through residency, earns his first call-up to the Brave Blossoms team. There also first inclusions for William Tupou, Canon and Sunwolves front-row Yusuke Niwai and Suntory's Shota Emi.
Japan will assemble in Fukuoka for a week's training prior to the Romania test, before training at Shizuoka's Ecopa Stadium and then Tokyo for a week each.
Japan have announced four test matches for 2017, among them a first home meetings against Australia in November.
Fellow tier two nation Romania will take on the Brave Blossoms in Japan on June 10, before they face two clashes against Ireland on June 17 and 24. Japan have will look to build on an impressive record against Romania, a side against whom they have won four of their five tests.
One of those tests will be played at Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium in Tokyo, we believe. Ajinomoto Stadium, which hosted Japan’s second test against Scotland in June 2016, is unlikely to be used due to match taking place half-way through the domestic football season, with FC Tokyo and Tokyo Verdy sharing the stadium.
The Wallabies will then visit Japan for a test on November 4, with a venue yet to be decided. Further tests against a tier two nation will be announced later in the new year.
Jamie Joseph marked a new era in Japanese rugby on Monday, naming his first Brave Blossoms squad for November tests against Argentina, Georgia, Wales and Fiji.
Yamaha accounted for a large part of the squad, with four forwards called up by Joseph after their impressive start to the Top League this season. Ricoh's Shuhei Matsuhashi, Honda Heat and Japan 7s star Mano Lemeki and Toshiba youngster Malgene Ilau are among the 16 players to receive their first call-ups.
Michael Leitch and Hendrik Tui were notable omissions from the Japan squad, with the duo having played non-stop rugby since last year's World Cup in two Top League seasons sandwiched either side of the 2016 Super Rugby campaign. Ayumu Goromaru is still regaining fitness at new club Toulon and was not an option for Joseph this time round.
Joseph said: Ricoh's Shuhei Matsuhashi, Honda Heat and Japan 7s star Mano Lemeki and Toshiba youngster Malgene Ilau are among the 16 players to receive their first call-ups.
Joseph: "We have 10+ players unavailable for selection due to retirement or personal reasons so selection was based on giving new players who have been performing well in the Top League an opportunity to play at international level."
The JRFU today announced Japan will take on Argentina on November 5th 2016 at Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium, Tokyo.
The test against Los Pumas will be the first of four November fixtures scheduled for new head coach Jamie Joseph and his side. Japan will play Georgia, Fiji and Wales following the encounter with Argentina.
The Brave Blossoms have faced Argentina on five prior occasions, most recently in April 2005 in a try-fest in Buenos Aires with Argentina prevailing 68-36 winners. Japan have won just one of the five test matches with Los Pumas to date - that victory, however, came in the most recent clash in Tokyo back in September 1998 (44-29).
Ayumu Goromaru will not be at Yamaha Jubilo for the 2016-17 Top League season, paving the way for a move to French club Toulon. News of the Japan full-back’s exit from the Shizuoka-based club broke only yesterday in the Japanese media, but we understand Goromaru said his farewells to club players at the start of the year.
The only stumbling block remaining is his contract with Yamaha Jubilo, which expires in 2017, with a club official stating “We have had no response from Goromaru and are waiting for a reply from him.”
Goromaru, who has struggled to impress at Super Rugby club Queensland Reds, scoring just 20 points in his 256 minutes in his debut season.
The Japanese heartthrob will not bring his family with him to France, should the move to Toulon go ahead as planned as speculation mounts regarding his private life.
One player who will be at Yamaha next season will be Gerhard van den Heever. The South African winger will join the club for the 2016-17 season from Munster on a one-year deal.
Super Rugby side Highlanders have called a press conference for Thursday afternoon, at which Roger Clark is expected to confirm head coach Jamie Joseph’s departure to Japan at the end of the season.
The Japan Rugby Football Association had reached a ‘basic agreement’ for Joseph, JRC understands, but have now satisfied Highlanders’ demands in regards to the money needed to release him from his contract at the end of the season. Wages still remain a stumbling block between the two parties.
Despite Highlanders looking almost certain to announce Joseph's departure on Thursday, the JRFU may choose to delay the official announcement of their new head coach until the early stages of next week after the Top League and Lixil Cup reach their conclusions this weekend.
Joseph had emerged as the frontrunner for the vacant head coach post after former England head coach Stuart Lancaster ruled himself out, despite reports claiming he was offered an annual salary in excess of £300,000 (500,000 USD).
Highlanders will still have Joseph in place as their head coach for the upcoming Super Rugby campaign, although he is expected to take charge of Japan’s summer tests against Scotland in June planned for the international break.
Joseph guided Highlanders to their first ever Super Rugby title last year and has become one of the hottest properties in Southern hemisphere rugby since. The 46-year-old spent five years playing in Japan for Fukuoka Sanix Blues and also made nine international appearances for Japan having represented New Zealand earlier in his career.