Rugby-Choosing Rugby Championship over Six Nations sensible for Japan-JRFU CEO

(Reuters) - The Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) is in talks with both the Six Nations and the Rugby Championship to ensure regular international games, but would prefer to be part of the southern hemisphere competition, its CEO Kensuke Iwabuchi said.

Japan reached the quarter-finals of the 2019 World Cup on home soil but did not play in 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak, returning to action after 18 months against the British & Irish Lions in June 2021.

The Brave Blossoms won only one of their six matches last year, against Portugal.

"For our national teams to have not played for the best part of two years has had a huge impact," former Japan international Iwabuchi told the JRFU website.

"We definitely need to be involved in regular international competition, otherwise we cannot expect to maintain consistently strong sides. Europe has the Six Nations and the Southern Hemisphere have the Rugby Championship.

"We're in discussions with both competitions, but while Japan is technically in the Northern Hemisphere, from a time-zone perspective we're closer to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific nations, so it probably makes sense to connect with their competitions."

The Rugby Championship is contested by Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

Iwabuchi said the team can take heart from solid displays in defeats by Ireland, Australia and Scotland last year and added that they hoped to build on them before the next World Cup in France.

"I remain very optimistic regarding the Brave Blossoms and think that with two years of solid preparation ahead of France 2023 we can be in a position to achieve similar, if not better results than 2019," Iwabuchi said.

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru: Editing by Neil Fullick)

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