Joseph, Japan among rugby's elite in award nominations
TOKYO (AP) — Jamie Joseph and his Japan squad have been nominated for World Rugby awards in an elite field that includes the best teams and coaches in the game.
Rassie Erasmus and Eddie Jones, who will go head-to-head when South Africa and England meet in the World Cup final on Saturday, have been nominated for coach of the year along with Joseph, Steve Hansen and Warren Gatland.
Hansen, who has won the award four times, will be guiding New Zealand for the last time in Friday's bronze medal playoff against Gatland's Wales.
All four World Cup semifinalists and Japan, which lost to South Africa in the quarterfinals, have been nominated for team of the year. The player of the year nominations will be published Friday. All winners will be announced Sunday, the day after the final.
Joseph could be the first coach of a Tier Two team to get the coaching honor which was first awarded in 2001.
Jones, who guided the Wallabies to the World Cup final in 2003, helped on South Africa's wining campaign in '07 and guided Japan to an historic upset win over South Africa in '15, first won the coaching award in 2017, in his second year with England.
The finalists were selected a panel including ex-international players Maggie Alphonsi, Brian O'Driscoll and Agustín Pichot and former international coaches Nick Mallett and Clive Woodward.
Of Joseph, the panel said "hosts Japan made history during Rugby World Cup 2019 as they qualified for the quarterfinals for the first time, winning plaudits and new fans along the way. Jamie Joseph, their genial head coach, trusted in the skill of his players and the speed at which the Brave Blossoms played in victories against Ireland and Scotland will live long in the memory."
New Zealand, which won back-to-back World Cup titles in 2011 and '15, have won the team of the year award 10 times but will likely be upstaged this time.
Rugby championship winner South Africa, England and Six Nations Grand Slam winner Wales have all been big improvers in 2019. Ireland, the 2018 team of the year, lost to New Zealand in the quarterfinals here and didn't make the shortlist for the awards.
A loss to Japan in the pool phase helped derail Ireland's campaign. Japan won all four of its group games to qualify for the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time.
"The Brave Blossoms have captured the hearts and imagination of a nation with their up-tempo style of play and incredible heart," the selection panel said. "Victories over Ireland and Scotland saw them briefly rise to a new high of sixth in the World Rugby Men's Rankings in a year that also saw them win the World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup title and lose only twice — to South Africa — in nine tests."
England beat Australia and New Zealand in the knockout stage to reach the World Cup final for the first time in 12 years, becoming only the second team to beat both at the same tournament.
South Africa won the southern hemisphere championship and the group-stage loss to New Zealand at Yokohama last month is its only loss in 11 tests this year.