Japan Rugby League One: An American’s Primer

With the Major League Rugby season yet to return, we’re giving you guides to other rugby offerings for your viewing pleasure. Next up, Japan Rugby League One.

Japan Rugby League One

Japan Rugby League One is the professional club rugby system in Japan. This will be the first season under the ‘League One’ title and structure. The new system merges the Japanese Top League and Top Challenge League into a single rugby system. Japan annually attracts Tier 1 international stars in this fully professional set up. Expect to see global names from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa along with Test-level talent from Japan.

Structure

The term ‘League One’ is a bit of a misnomer. Japan Rugby League One resembles the ‘pyramid’ structure seen in English and French rugby. The league is made of three ‘divisions’ that resemble the ‘leagues’ structure in Europe. The divisions are structured as follows:

  • Division 1 – 12 teams split between two conferences
  • Division 2 – 6 teams with no conference structure
  • Division 3 – 6 teams with no conference structure

Division 1 is comparable to a ‘premiership’ in European terms. Division 2 is comparable to a ‘championship’, and Division 3 functions as a third tier. Divisions are tied by a promotion and relegation system.

DivisionPromotionRelegation
Division 1None; top 2 sides qualify for a potential cross border competitionBottom 3 sides enter promotion/relegation playoff with top 3 sides from Division 2
Division 2Top 3 sides enter promotion/relegation playoff with bottom 3 sides from Division 1Bottom 3 sides enter promotion/relegation playoff with top 3 sides from Division 3
Division 3Top 3 sides enter promotion/relegation playoff with bottom 3 sides from Division 2None

Competition Format

DivisionSeason StructurePlayoff Structure
Division 1Teams divided into 2 conferences; teams play other sides from the same conference home-and-away and teams from the opposite conference once; 16 regular season gamesTop 4 teams enter a single elimination playoff to determine a champion; Bottom 3 enter playoff with top 3 from Division 2 for places in Division 1 for the following season
Division 2Teams play other sides home-and-away; 10 regular season gamesTop 3 enter playoff with bottom 3 from Division 1 for places in Division 1 for the following season; Bottom 3 enter playoff with top 3 from Division 3 for places in Division 2 for the following season
Division 3Teams play other sides home-and-away; 10 regular season gamesTop 3 enter playoff with bottom 3 from Division 2 for places in Division 2 for the following season

Should I Watch?

Absolutely. Japanese rugby has been on the rise for over a decade. With the league seeing its first North American broadcasting in 2022, it provides an alternative to the English Premiership for American viewers seeking international club rugby.

How To Watch

A pair of games will air live on The Rugby Network each week. Replays will also be available shortly after. TRN remains free to watch.

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