One tournament into Simon Amor’s role as technical director of Japan’s sevens programme and there are already signs that the England and Great Britain legend is having a positive impact on a team that has not hit the heights you might expect it to in a rugby format practically made for Japan.
Having picked up just 11 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series competition points from the Dubai doubleheader in December, Japan’s men lost all three of their pool fixtures in round three in Malaga but ended the weekend in Spain with a noteworthy win over Kenya, finalists in Vancouver on the 2021 Series, as well as a victory against Jamaica.
Malaga is just one small step on a journey that Amor hopes will take Japan to the summit of a game that, on the face of it, they look ideally suited to.
“They definitely have the potential and talent in terms of the agility, footwork and evasiveness that can really suit the sevens game. It is a country that probably hasn’t fulfilled its potential yet in sevens given the physiology of players,” he said.
“The game is becoming much more of a one versus one battle and that plays strongly to the footwork that Japanese players have.
“Like with any team on the World Series, the more you play the better you become. That’s the nature of sevens and, at the moment, we have got inexperienced men’s and women’s teams that have played little top-level sevens.
“The more this team stays together, the more they will grow. They’re both young teams.
“There is probably an older style of play which is perhaps not as conducive to top-level sevens as we speak at the moment and certainly doesn’t fit their style as a team,” he added. “So we have got to create the Japan style of play, I guess.”
Made for sevens
Both the men’s and women’s teams endured a disappointing Tokyo Olympics campaign and it is over two decades since the men achieved their best-ever finish of fifth at a World Series tournament. The women haven’t fared much better, reaching just two Cup quarter-finals.
Despite this track record, Amor believes sevens and Japan are a natural fit.
“There are some things where Japan has a real synergy with in terms of culture with the sevens game. In Japanese culture people work hard and pride themselves on their commitment and effort and, first and foremost, that is what sevens is about.
“You can see the work that goes in across the board, it is how they work.
“At the moment they probably don’t have the experience of coaches which is why you see, in the Top League, a lot of foreign coaches coming over to give their guidance. That is somewhere that I feel I can give some guidance.”
Amor is passing on his wealth of experience to head coaches Koichi Umeda (men's) and Takashi Suzuki (women's) as well as actively helping to coach the players, while also putting robust pathways in place that ensure alignment between the schools, universities and clubs and what the national teams are trying to achieve.
His appointment with Japan follows on from a short-term stint as acting head coach of the Hong Kong men’s 15s team.
After a stellar playing and coaching career in England, the 42-year-old former World Rugby Sevens Men’s Player of the Year is glad to be doing his bit to help other nations develop.
“I am fascinated about the Asian culture and I love Japan as a country and I feel honoured to do this role.
“Their values resonate with my own personal values so I believe there is a connection there and I think the talent and the potential is there to help this team progress and win medals.
“Hopefully, I can make a difference to the growth of this great game”.