Four of the eight World Cup quarter-finalist coaches are New Zealanders, but it is Jamie Joseph’s story that is being told and retold as Japan continue to soar as the host nation.
All Black coach Steve Hansen, Wales’ Warren Gatland and Ireland’s Joe Schmidt have all announced their international retirements after this World Cup. Hansen will coach club rugby in Japan, Gatland is returning to the Chiefs in New Zealand and Schmidt is returning to New Zealand on a sabbatical.
Joseph, whose contract with Japan expires at the end of the World Cup, is expected to re-sign with the Japanese Rugby Union, despite reports that he is among the candidates to replace Hansen as All Black coach.
Just who is Jamie Joseph?
He is a man rich in Maori and rugby tradition. Joseph’s Maori heritage through his father is to the Ngati Maniapoto tribe and the Rangitane and Ngati Rarua, through his mother.
He is a player and a coach with a unique rugby record. Joseph is a former All Black and Japanese international, who played at two successive World Cups for two different nations. Joseph played 20 Tests for the All Blacks, which included the 1995 World Cup, and when just 25-years-old left New Zealand for Japan. He then played a further nine Tests for Japan, which included appearances at the 1999 World Cup hosted by Wales.
Joseph, in charge of Japan since 2016, has largely operated under the radar as an international coach, but his coaching pedigree has been everything but under the radar. He was the coach of the New Zealand Maori All Blacks who beat England in two successive matches and he also masterminded the Highlanders first and only Super Rugby success in 2015 when they beat the Hurricanes 21-14.
Those who have played under Joseph speak of his clarity, purpose, loyalty and innovation as a coach. They say he continuously defies the norm and challenges the status quo that nothing is impossible. Who would have given Japan a chance to beat Ireland at the World Cup when the Irish had started the tournament as the number one ranked team in the world?
According to the Japanese players, Joseph always felt they were good enough to beat Ireland. A trademark of Joseph’s Highlanders team was their expansive style of play. He sought continuity, offloads and pace on attack.
His teams, in New Zealand and with the Japanese national side, always maximise the width of the field and some of the rugby Japan have played at this World Cup has been described as revolutionary and from another planet.
Joseph, after his team lost 41-7 to the Springboks in a World Cup warm-up, said the match was important because it showed his players just what they would be up against to advance beyond the quarter-finals.
I don’t think Japan can beat the Boks on Sunday, but with Joseph in charge they certainly won’t die wondering.