Steelers Leadership Group Accounts For Woeful 2023 JRLO Season

On Friday 28 April, the NTT League One 2022-23 season summary press conference was held at the clubhouse at Nadahama Ground. The speakers were Team Director Masayuki Fukumoto, Head Coach Nicholas Holten and Captain Hikaru Hashimoto. Below follows an English translation of the proceedings.

Team Director Fukumoto started off the press conference by talking about the team’s 5 wins, 11 losses and 9th place finish.

This season we started three months earlier than usual, focusing on the team-building aspect, which has been an issue for the past three years, but due to Corona, there were a lot of things we couldn’t do. Also, as far as rugby is concerned, we had a lot of injuries and the impact of not being able to field our best squad was undeniable. As a result, this has been our worst season to date.

2023 caretaker Head Coach, Nicholas Holten continued,

We will analyse this season carefully and rebuild so that we don’t repeat the same mistakes. I think we got too caught up in getting the team back to the state we were in when we won the 2018 season. However, a few years have passed since then and we have new players and staff. It is my responsibility as head coach to integrate the ideas they have with the ideas for 2018 and I failed to do that. In terms of rugby, we have spent a lot of time on defence, which has been an issue for the last few seasons. We wanted to improve our defence so that we could spend more time on attack, but in the actual games we spent more time on defence. We couldn’t get the ball back in the long phases we were defending, and we were fouling too easily, putting us under even more pressure. Also, even though we were often evenly matched until half-time, we were outscored immediately in the second half, and we made mistakes on kick-off receptions to put the ball back in their hands. We also had some issues with inaccurate play at key moments. We finished the season without being able to correct this part of our performance. Injuries were definitely one of the reasons why things didn’t go well. But it is easy to use injuries as an excuse. We need to make sure that even with all the injuries, we can all keep going in the same direction. All players and staff are feeling the pain of this season’s results. We will turn that into positive energy and look forward to next season.

Captain Hashimoto reflected on the fact that, like Head Coach Holten, he was too focused on the 2018 season, saying,

I think we aimed for the rugby we played when we won the championship too much. It was a season in which we realised how difficult it is to build a team with a lot of player turnover. We have worked very hard to make a good team, but the results have not been good. We will use this as food for thought and come back stronger next season.

A question and answer session followed.
The first question was: ‘What went wrong in trying to emulate the rugby that won you the championship?’ Captain Hashimoto replied:

At that time, it was the latest rugby that other teams were not playing, and even if we made a few mistakes, it went well. But now, every team plays the same kind of rugby, although the details are different. It was difficult to create momentum there, and there were areas where the opponents analysed us and took countermeasures.

Regarding the high number of infringements, he replied,

We have talked about it many times, but it was difficult to correct it until the end.

Regarding the high number of injuries, team director Fukumoto said that they were still analysing the situation and firmly stated that they would start over in terms of fitness. When asked what he wanted to say to the fans during a season in which results have been difficult to come by, team director Fukumoto replied:

I posted messages on social networking sites during the second half of the season. I wondered whether to make a comment or not, but I know the state of the team and I trust the players and staff. I made the comment because I wanted to reassure the fans as much as possible. In terms of result, we have had such a disappointing performance and I am very sorry to our fans. Even in the midst of such a difficult battle, they cheered us on, and when the Kobe cheer rose spontaneously, it touched my heart. I feel strongly that we wanted to get a result for our fans. Next season, I want to make the fans smile.

he said, adding that in order to achieve good results next season,

We have to take new initiatives. If we continue as we are now, we will get the same results; I thought we would build on 2018, but I was reminded that it is difficult to move forward while looking at the past. Next season, we will take on new challenges so that we can create a rugby that we can compete with.

Team director Fukumoto said he was not yet ready to announce the structure for next season, but he said emphatically:

We will put in place a structure that will convince our fans that we can return to the top of Japan.

It has been a tough season, but the team hopes to have something positive to report next season, so please stay tuned. The new structure will be announced on the team’s official website as soon as it has been decided.

The unsuccessful 2023 squad pictured at training for the last time.

Perhaps one “necessary new initiative” that Director Fukumoto paid lip serice to should be the replacement of himself and the two men that sat next to him in those chairs at the press conference?


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