Former Wallabies teammates Quade Cooper and Will Genia believe Japan is a fertile breeding ground for rugby stars, but it needs more global competition.
Cooper says Japanese rugby is so strong that Australian and New Zealand Super Rugby teams should consider playing in their competition, rather than the other way around.
Cooper and his former Queensland Reds teammate Will Genia currently play for Japanese second-division side Kintetsu Liners, and they’ve been blown away by the quality of rugby in that country.
The progress was reflected by the national team’s success at the 2019 World Cup, where they beat Scotland and Ireland on the way to making the quarter-finals.
The Japanese-based Sunwolves were introduced into Super Rugby in 2016, but the team struggled each year and it was eventually announced they would be cut at the end of 2020.
The Sunwolves notched a total of just eight wins in its four completed seasons.
Cooper agrees the experiment didn’t quite work, and he has come up with an out-of-the-box solution: let some Australian and New Zealand teams play in the Japanese competition.
“A lot of the time we think of it as putting a team in Japan to have an opportunity to compete in Super Rugby,” Cooper said.
“But the competition that is very strong at the moment is the Japanese league. So in my mind you would be inviting a team from Super Rugby to come over here and join into that.
“We’ve tried it the other way around, we put the Sunwolves in, and it wasn’t the best experience. But the fan base here (in Japan) is amazing, the strength of the companies is amazing.
“Everything here seems to be going in the right direction. I feel like at some point it has to be taken into consideration.
“You might incorporate two of the Australian teams and two of the New Zealand teams.”
Genia is also keen to see some type of cross-nation competition featuring teams from NZ, Australia and Japan.
“There’s an abundance of talent here,” Genia said.
“Japan at some point has to be incorporated into Super Rugby. We’re in the same time zone, you’ve got quality players.
“And if you look at some of the strong top league teams – Suntory, Kubota – as their rosters sit, they’d be competing with Super Rugby teams, I have no doubt.”
Genia and Cooper have loved their time in Japan, and both are keen to extend their stay there.
The duo will be in action again on April 17 when the playoffs begin to earn promotion into the Japanese Top League.