Last Saturday, Australia’s generation next stepped up to the plate to defeat the All Blacks U20s for the first time in the Oceania Rugby U20s Championships at Bond University on the Gold Coast. The four nation comp, including Fiji and Japan, that played their final match at 5pm, was a great success. In front of a strong crowd of 2,136 people, a changing of the guard, so to speak, was on display as the Junior Wallabies, coached by Jason Gilmore, kept their Kiwi counterparts scoreless with a 24-0 victory. Such luminaries as World Rugby CEO, Brett Gosper, and Gold Coast Mayor, Tom Tate, were on hand to witness the spectacle.
Led by captain Fraser McReight from the Brothers club in Brisbane and a Reds contracted player, the Junior Wallabies worked hard to keep the Kiwis scoreless, going to the sheds after the first 40 minutes up 12-0 from four penalty kicks by Randwick No. 10, Will Harrison. Two tries in the second half, including a spectacular cross kick to Junior Wallaby winger Triston Reilly to score and captain courageous, Fraser McReight crashing over in the 71st minute sealed the 24-0 victory ahead of the U20s World Championships in Argentina next month, June 4th~22nd.
“I don’t think an Under 20s side has ever done that (win against New Zealand) in a very long time and we can take confidence in that, and that’s so unreal and I can’t wait for the future, and I can’t wait to win that Junior Rugby World Cup .”
Junior Wallabies captain, Fraser McReight
Such a great tournament run by Oceania Rugby and Rugby Australia and hosted by the magnificent facilities at Bond University. Real credit to Director of Rugby at Bond, Luca Luisse, and his team for once again providing such great support which hopefully bodes well for the continuation of this tournament. World Rugby boss Brett Gosper was particularly impressed by the facilities Bond University has to offer.
“The facilities here at Bond (University) are really first class.
Wonderful grounds, what a beautiful setting for a rugby game like this.”
Brett Gosper, World Rugby CEO.
The Japanese side captained by Shota Fukui, who also scored the first try in the 6th minute, put up a strong showing to hold the Fijians to the narrowest of leads, 28-27, by the halftime mark. As the second half began, a penalty kick by mercurial fly-half, Rintaro Maruyama, saw the young Brave Blossoms ahead 30-28. Then the Fijians ran ahead, initially breaking the deficit in the 51st minute through their speedy fullback, Ratu Osea Waqaninavatu, to make the score 35-30, then a further four more tries to win 59-37 after one of Japan’s best on the field player, industrious No. 8 Takamasa Muruo, scored his third try of the match in the 73rd minute. Gosper and myself were impressed by the tenacity of the relatively smaller Japanese side’s awesome tackling display against the larger South Pacific Islanders. It was great to see Japan back in this tournament, after a hiatus since 2015; hopefully, they are a part of the setup next year (provided Bond University is once again granted hosting status from Oceania Rugby).
Junior Japan’s Head Coach Yoshitake Mizuma said ahead of this year’s Championship that it is a privilege to be able to compete with the world’s best teams in this age-grade.
“We hope that our boys take advantage of this occasion to foster camaraderie through rugby, interact with many local people and learn about each other’s culture so as to grow as a person,” Mizuma added
On only the fourth day of the new Japanese “Reiwa” Era the U20s final day was upon us. In slight overcast conditions the Japanese took on Fiji at 5pm. Perched up in the Bond University stands with World Rugby CEO, Brett Gosper, we were treated to a fast entertaining match to open the final day of proceedings of the 8-day Oceania Rugby U20’s Championships on the Gold Coast. Despite a distinct size difference, the Japanese were tenacious matching the Fijians to hold them to a one-point lead, 28-27, by the halftime hooter, with their scrum a dominant feature of the half. This scrum ascendancy wreaked havoc shortly into the second stanza garnishing an early penalty for Japan to re-take the lead, 30-28, before eventually succumbing to the South-Pacific Islanders to go down 59-37 by the end of the 80 minutes in a high scoring encounter.
The strong crowd of 2000+ were spellbound by the pace of the first match of the evening with the Japanese captain, Shota Fukui, showing why he is a part of the Robbie Deans coached Panasonic Wild Knights by scoring in the 6th minute off a line-out drive 5 meters out, and mercurial fly-half Rintaro Maruyama’s conversion had the men in red & white taking the early lead 7-0 over their more fancied Pacific Island counterparts. Not to be outdone, two minutes later smart Fijian halfback, Josh Akariva Isaiah Vutu, was in under the posts after taking a quick penalty tap to equalise the score at 7-all. By the 13th minute Fiji was in again with inside-centre, Ilaisa Droasese, stepping through the bamboozled Japanese back-line to cross the paint putting Fiji ahead, for the first time in the match, 14-7. However, the dominate Japanese scrum forced a pushover try to impressive Japanese No. 8, Takamasa Maruo, and this dominance continued for ever present Captain Fukui to bag a double to see the Rising Sun team back in the lead, 19-14, halfway through the first stanza. Two tries to Fiji flanker, Vilive Miramira, which were both converted put them in a commanding position at 28-19; not before Maruo made a break off a Fijian mistake on attack from his own side of halfway and showing a clean pair of heels, raced 60 meters for his double on the stroke of halftime to take his team to the sheds down only 28-27.
Only a few minutes into the second half, the Japanese scrum ascendancy forced Fiji to transgress on their feed as the No. 8, Aminaisi Tiritabua Shaw, was stood up, allowing Japan’s No. 10, Maruyama, to slot the penalty goal from 35 meters out to put Japan ahead 30-28. Despite the fearless Japanese defence and their scrum superiority, the Fijians ran in four unanswered tries, firstly through speedy fullback Ratu Osea Waqaninavatu in the 51st minute followed by both wingers, including a double to Osea Joji Natoga, to stamp their mark on the match going ahead 52-30 with only 10 minutes left on the clock. Japan’s industrious No. 8, Maruo, was not finished troubling the scorers with his hat-trick try from a quick thinking tap in the 73rd minute, combined with Maruyama’s successful conversion the score read 52-37. The coup de grâce came two minutes later with replacement Fijian hooker, Lino Mairara Vasuinadi, powering over. Final score 59-37. A very high scoring and exhilarating display that bodes well for the World Rugby U20 Championships in Argentina next month, June 4th~22nd.
“It feels really good. We came out a bit slow today, but then eventually we overcame (this) and we did the little things right. And the scoreboard tells it all.”
Fiji Captain, Tevita Ikanivere, after the match.
Japan U20s captain, Shota Fukui, was obviously upset by the valiant effort shown by his team and said, “I’m disappointed (of the loss), due to all the support we are receiving from people back in Japan.”
Once again Bond University plays host to the Oceania Rugby U20s Championship with four nations represented this year: alongside Australia is New Zealand, Fiji and Japan returns replacing Tonga after non-attendance since 2015. This Championship has been held on the Gold Coast since 2015 and Oceania Rugby’s Competition Manager, Wayne Schuster said, “The Oceania Rugby U20s Championship serves to provide our premier U20s teams in the region the best preparation possible ahead of the World Rugby U20s Championship each year.”
Last Friday saw there first round take place with the Junior All Blacks 53-7 victors over Fiji and the Junior Wallabies 64-14 defeating a spirited Japanese outfit lead by Shota Fukui. Matches continue at Bond University for Round 2 on Tuesday April 30th. New Zealand take on Japan at 3pm with Australia against Fiji at 5pm. Saturday the action continues with Round 3: Japan v Fiji at 5pm and the Junior Wallabies v New Zealand at 7pm. Entry $5 Children under 12 free.
The World Rugby U20s Championship will be held in Argentina from June 4th~22nd, 2019.
With Japan being awarded this year’s Rugby World Cup, you could be thinking that the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) would be going out of their way to promote the game. On closer inspection it looks like quite the opposite.
Firstly, the JRFU basically cancelled the Top League Competition for the 2019-20 season, replacing it with two mini tourneys in 2020. Then they told SANZAAR in March that they really didn’t think Super Rugby was the best way to develop the national side and now former Prime Minister, Yoshiro Mori, call’s for the JRFU to be reformed after announcing his shock resignation last week as the organisation’s honorary chairman. He is the man responsible for Japan hosting RWC2019.
Mori-san is not the only one at odds with the JRFU, as former Japan national coach, Eddie Jones, reiterated with Kyodo News in Japan, yesterday, his opinion regarding the JRFU allowing the Japanese side the Sunwolves to be disabandoned after the 2020 Super Rugby season.
“If Japan wants to be a top 10 country in the world, which they do, they need their players to be prepared,” the current England coach, Jones, said.
“The purpose of the Sunwolves was to give opportunities for young Japanese players to prepare for test rugby, because ultimately like any rugby country you want your national team to be strong and your grassroots to be strong, and in between you work out the right structure.
“What Japan was missing was that opportunityfor younger players to go from a good domestic Top League into a higher level of competition without being exposed to test level, and the Sunwolves provided that opportunity. It hasn’t worked out for them and I think it is a massive opportunity missed.“
Eddie Jones speaking with Kyodo News’ Rich Freeman in Yokohama.
Remembering, of course, that Eddie Jones prepared the Japanese Team for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, so he knows what he’s talking about. Putting his chargers through a somewhat grueling experience on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu ahead of that tourney, they certainly reaped the glory with their win at RWC2015 in Brighton. To overcome the might of South Africa’s Springboks at rugby’s showcase tournament is the story of legends and a movie under the title of, ‘Miracle in Brighton,’ is already underway.
World Rugby Chairman, Bill Beaumont, has used the World Cup in Japan to promote rugby throughout Asia with a target of one million new participants. In December last year, Beaumont announced that this target has been achieved at a special event celebrating 50 years of Asia Rugby in Bangkok.
While the vast majority of those numbers have been in Japan, about 460,000. Many of which have been involved in one off tournaments such as the one I attended at the YC&AC grounds last September in Yokohama run by Australian Peter Gibson called the “Hero’s Cup” with former Japan captain Hitoshi Ono.
According to veteran rugby scribe in Japan and good friend, Rich Freeman, the inflated numbers for Japan are not telling the true story. As rugby numbers are actually on the decline.
“In the present way it’s structured it just doesn’t work. Schools are losing rugby clubs big time,” Freeman says.
“Rugby is struggling, especially at school level, so they’re going to have to change the way it’s structured.”
The main problem is that there are no consistent pathways, unless your child attends a rugby school and that is the only sport they are allowed to play 330-340 days a year. Those that don’t attend are going to feel left out after the World Cup with nowhere to play rugby.
“You’re going to have all these young kids saying, ‘Wow, I watched Beauden Barrett play and he did this, I want to play,’ but unless there are more clubs like Koji’s (Tokumasu) Shibuya Rugby Club, where are they going to go?”
Koji Tokumasu runs the Shibuya Rugby Club which is one of only a few clubs introducing Tokyo kids to the sport through tag rugby. He is a senior director for #RWC2019 organising committee and says the JRFU needs to pick up it’s act.
“Every Sunday we have over 300 under 12’s playing tag rugby and even if they don’t have the opportunity to play at school they can play at our club. I’m hoping and confident that will increase, so the Japan Rugby Union and schools should be prepared to open the door when this happens.”
The urgency for exposure is apparent with only six months before the Cup kicks off at Tokyo Stadium (Ajinomoto Stadium) on September 20th with Japan hosting Russia in Pool A. Many people I talked to in Japan last year were overawed by Japan’s success at the last World Cup in England four years earlier. Not just the win over South Africa, the match between Japan and Samoa achieved a television audience record of 25 million in Japan.
In the past week there has been a tsunami of commentary about one particular player of the Qantas Wallabies team that has been quite outstanding. Never before, in rugby, have we seen the plethora of correspondence across social media from all corners of the globe. If Israel Folau was seeking attention, he certainly achieved that.
Spending a rare week-off during the Super Rugby season with his wife, Maria Folau, in New Zealand, and just like the break in April last year when he posted homophobic comments to Instagram and Twitter where he was ‘lightly’ reprimanded, Folau has repeated this indiscretion.
Almost 39,000 people have liked the post including prominent Wallaby teammates, Samu Kerevi and Allan Alaalatoa, All Blacks flanker, Vaea Fifita, English rugby No. 8, Billy Vunipola, and AFL great Gary Ablett amongst others.
For those who say the tweet was harmless, should now begin to understand the gravitas of the medium used. How many countless young South Pacific Islanders that absolutely worship Israel Folau, that are questioning there own sexuality, will respond to this latest declaration?
The Integrity Unit of Rugby Australia has concluded, “That Folau has committed a high-level breach of the Professional Players Code of Conduct warranting termination of his employment.”
In the statement yesterday, Folau has been given 48 hours to respond to the sanction or the matter will be referred to a Code of Conduct hearing.
Rugby Australia Chief Executive, Raelene Castle, said, “At it’s core, this is an issue of the responsibilities an employee owes to their employer and commitments they make to their employer to abide by their employer’s policies and procedures and adhere to their employer’s values.
“Following the events of last year, Israel was warned formally and repeatedly about the expectations of him as a player for the Wallabies and NSW Waratahs with regards to social media use and he has failed to meet those obligations. It was made clear to him that any social media posts or commentary that is in any way disrespectful to people because of their sexuality will result in disciplinary action.
Wallabies coach, Michael Chieka, has confirmed on Monday that he won’t pick Israel Folau again. He said, “We’ve had the discussion about it after the last time about his right to believe and our support in that…but getting out in that disrespectful manner publicly, is not what this team is about.”
“We’ve had the discussion about it and the lines been crossed.
“When you play in the gold jersey, we’re representing everyone in Australia -everyone that’s out there supporting us. We don’t pick and choose.
Chieka was adamant on the importance of the team but also added, “Everybody has the right to believe (in what they want) and we respect that right. We’re not moral judges and no one should be“.
The Sydney Morning Herald interviewed Folau on Sunday after church in western Sydney where he said he was being persecuted for his faith.
“First and foremost, I live for God now,” Folau said. “Whatever He wants me to do, I believe His plans for me are better than whatever I can think.
“If that’s not to continue on playing, so be it. In saying that, obviously I love playing footy and if it goes down that path I’ll definitely miss it. But my faith in Jesus Christ is what comes first.“
Exactly twelve months ago, Israel Folau contributed an article to the PlayersVoice where he articulated his position after his initial foray into social media condemning homosexuals to hell.
So in the end, the boy from Minto, NSW, who played rugby league at Marsden State High School in Brisbane, will not be on the plane to Japan for the Rugby World Cup in September. A duel international for rugby league and union with a flutter at AFL in the middle will not been seen on a professional rugby field in this country wearing our National or Waratah colours.
Once again I would like to thank you for the pleasure of watching your athleticism on the field since you ran out as a young 17 year old for the Melbourne Storm in the NRL in 2007, your rugby league contributions to the Queensland State of Origin side & the Kangaroos; and especially your 62 test matches for the Wallabies. You have your convictions to the Christian faith, of which I respect, and you stand by that. You appear comfortable in your demeanor with peace in your heart.
Last year in Tokyo the Sunwolves set ChiChiBu-no-Miya Stadium alight with their sublime 63-28 demolition of the lackluster Queensland Reds. In March, at the same stadium in Tokyo, in front of a boisterous crowd, a repeat was on the cards until the Reds scored to level at 31-all near the end and Hamish Stewart manged a penalty goal after full-time to get the Reds out of jail with their first win of the season 34-31.
Two weeks ago they defeated the NSW Waratahs 31-29 in a Friday match at Newcastle Stadium. In March they had beaten the Waikato Chiefs in Hamilton, New Zealand, 30-15, for their first away win. Unfortunately, SANZAAR later decided, with the JFRU withdrawing their support, that the team will be cut from Super Rugby after the completion of the 2020 media contract. With the Top League overlapping the Super Rugby season next year, the Sunwolves won’t be as strong as they are displaying this year; more reason to attend.
Find the event at Brisbanerugby.com on Facebook and show your interest by giving me an indication of how many tickets you would like at a reduced price. Payment can be made up until the day before the event through the Commonwealth Bank, Australia account Brisbanerugby BSB: 064-128. Account Number: 10373547.
Back in 2011, I was introduced to the guys from the Shekou Rugby Club in Shenzhen. On Wednesday nights, we would gather at the grounds of SIS near Seaworld in Shekou, Shenzhen, China and play touch rugby. It’s always a convivial motley crew of men and women from France, Australia, New Zealand, America, PNG, Italy, Japan, China, Hong Kong and elsewhere. It was here I ran into this friendly Australian, John Graham. Always having a laugh and telling us how he was doing a segment on a US Golf Show. A very genuine person that would never question helping you out. Often we would run into each other ‘downtown’ in Futian, Shenzhen having a few drinks and a laugh.
At that time he was running a successful gym, Fusion, near the waterfront in Shekou that many of the rugby players attended. There was a lot of positivity in that gym and everyone said it was great. (I even had a training session there). Well that has turned out to be his Achilles heel as he was duped by a Chinese businessman who took over the business. I will let John take up the story below:
Back in 2016, a major revolution was afoot with the expansion of Super Rugby to 18 teams across six countries, four unions, both hemisphere’s and numerous time zones. The convoluted system incorporating four conferences was too hard to comprehend and player fatigue due to frequent flyer mileage was a factor that was difficult to manage. Micromanagement saw the teams culled to 15, but this is also seen as too cumbersome and a new 14 or 15-team competition will begin after the current broadcast deal expires next year; starting in 2021.
I remember in 2009 on the Gold Coast talking with then Japanese coach and All Black legend, John Kirwan. I brought up the idea of having a Japanese based Super Rugby franchise, to which Jk said, “No-way, impossible, the company teams in Japan are way too powerful“. In Australia, we could see the merit of a Japanese team with the time-slot 1 hour behind Eastern Standard Time wedged between the Western Force matches in Perth.
“No-way, impossible, the company teams in Japan are way too powerful“.
Fast forward to 2019 and another All Black legend, current Queensland Reds coach, Brad Thorn. He’s come out strongly supporting the Sunwolves. After last Saturday’s match at Chichibu-no-Miya Stadium in Tokyo saying, “Look at that game today, look at the Sunwolves this season, they’ve been outstanding. It’s so good for rugby in Japan, look at the crowd. It would be disappointing and sad if Sunwolves were no longer part of it.”
Unfortunately, it’s official that from the Super Rugby 2021 season the Sunwolves will no longer be a part of the competition. In the words of SANZAAR CEO Andy Marino, “The decision to further consolidate the competition format to a 14-team round robin was not taken lightly. It has involved some detailed analysis and a thorough review of the current and future rugby landscape, tournament costs, commercial and broadcast considerations and player welfare in line with our Strategic Plan.”
Maybe John Kirwan was right, as sources have inferred that the JRFU never really liked the concept of the Sunwolves. This view was even voiced to SANZAAR by the JRFU as Marino reiterated, “SANZAAR was advised by the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) in early March that they would no longer be in a position to financially underwrite the Sunwolves future participation post 2020. The future of the Sunwolves will now be determined by the JRFU which has determined that Super Rugby no longer remains the best pathway for the development of players for the national team.”
There’s a lot of issues to be sorted out, with finances being a major concern, along with the disruption to the Top League season in Japan. Moving forward, it’s time to have a good chat with Andrew Forrest about becoming a part of Global Rapid Rugby.
For those heading to the Rugby World Cup this year in Japan your journey starts this Saturday on the Gold Coast. The Japan Community of Queensland Inc. cordially invite you to immerse yourself into Japanese food, culture and the people at Albert Waterways Community Centre in Broadbeach from 10am to 5pm. Proudly supported by the Japanese Consulate in Brisbane and Brisbanerugby, this is your first step of the incredible journey for the World Cup to be hosted outside of a ‘traditional‘ rugby nation.
(yon-nen ni ichi-do jyanai. Isshou-ni ichi-do da.)
The catch cry for this year’s World Cup is, “Not every 4 years. Once in a lifetime.” Basically meaning that this will be the ONLY time in your lifetime to experience such an event in Asia.
Japan has a proud history of rugby dating back to 1889, when Edward Bramwell Clarke, an instructor in English language and literature at Keio University at the time, began teaching rugby together with fellow Cambridge alumnus Ginnosuke Tanaka. Enthusiasm for rugby grew in Japan, led mainly by the university and high school students. University rugby became increasingly popular because of the top teams from Waseda, Keio,Meiji and DoshishaUniversities, peaking between the 1980s and early 1990s. From 2016 the Tokyo based Sunwolves entered the Super Rugby competition and played a very competitive match against the Queensland Reds last weekend in Tokyo, narrowly losing 34-31 in the final play.
Some Queensland Reds and Super W players will be on hand around 2pm for autographs and some rugby fun. We are very privileged to have a Japanese player from the Women’s Reds Team, Asako-chan, as well to demonstrate the pathways open to those that persevere, “Fight-o” in Japanese.
From the inception of the Rugby World Cup in 1987, where Australia and New Zealand hosted the inaugural event, the manifestation of this great tournament has been at the forefront of international attention. None more so than the 1995 tourney in South Africa with the Springboks competing for the first time for Nelson Mandela’s newly minted, Rainbow Nation. Who would forget the galvanising of a population under the same banner through rugby union? It was the inspiration for the book, “Playing the Enemy“, by English journalist, John Carlin, that inspired the 2009 movie, “Invictus” directed by Clint Eastward.
Four years later at RWC 1999, former Wallaby captain and Australian rugby commentator, Andrew Slack, stated ahead of the New Zealand v France semi-final in Twickenham, that he would move to the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa if France won. When the French came from 24-10 down at halftime to upstage the Kiwis 43-31 by the fulltime whistle, Slack was packing his bags. The final that year saw the Wallabies, under John Eales leadership, win their second Webb Ellis Trophy, 35-12 over France.
By 2007, the tournament moved to an exclusively non-English speaking nation France. However, the memorable French 20-18 win over the All Blacks in the quarter-final was in Cardiff, Wales. Incendently, the Argentine Los Pumas affirmed their rugby pedigree defeating the French hosts twice. This time it was the South Africans that clinched their second title, 15-6, over England at Stade de France, Saint-Denis in Paris.
It was the 2011 edition that finally saw the mighty All Blacks overcome 24 years of ridicule and derision to secure their second Webb-Ellis title. In front of 61,079 home fans at the sacred Eden Park, the crucible of rugby in New Zealand, the ABs overcame their nemesis, France, to hold on by the slightest of margins, winning 8-7. Despite the valiant efforts of the French captain, Thierry Dusautoir’s, Man-of-the-Match performance, Les Bleus, couldn’t overcome the Maori challenge.
The Rugby World Cup unites diverse ethnic cultures and languages. It brings the so-called second tier nations to compete against the best teams on the planet in front of huge crowds with a global audience. In RWC 2015 the average attendance across all 48 matches was 95.27%, the most well-patronised event with a total of 2,477,805 in attendance (Wikipedia 2018). The match between Japan and Samoa achieved a television audience record of 25 million in Japan and ITV in the UK recorded 11.6 million viewers for the England v Wales match (RWC site). However, the biggest revelation to come from RWC 2015 was the “Miracle in Brighton“, when the Eddie Jones coached Japan Brave Blossoms defeated the South African Springboks 34-32 after the fulltime siren. This has inspired Australian writer and director, Max Mannix to produce a movie of the lead up to this extraordinary occurrence, with filming commencing on Australia’s Gold Coast this month.
This year the Rugby World Cup carnival, for the first time, moves to Asia and the Land of the Rising Sun. Japan will host the third biggest sporting event on the global stage, with big shoes to fill after the successful UK edition four years hence. Action starts in 8 months with the opening ceremony on September 20th at Ajinomoto Stadium, in Tokyo’s western suburbs, followed by hosts, Japan, taking on Russia through to six weeks of competition culminating with the final at the cavernous 72,327-seat Nissan Stadium in Yokohama.
“Not once every four years. Once in a lifetime!”
Such a bold statement, though justifiably so with the tournament making an initial foray into the Orient, laying testament to the multitude of cultures that make up the rugby family. The Hong Kong Sevens continually draws on this diversity to host the most successful annual 7s rugby pilgrimage there, but for the Rugby World Cup to be held in Asia, this will surely be a once in a lifetime experience.
From the northern ocean roads of 北海道（Hokkaido）to the nine states of 九州（Kyushu）in the south, across 12 stadiums with dedicated host cities, rugby fans will be treated to not only 48 high-quality international rugby matches, but a sensory overload in this ancient country of temples, shrines and castles coupled with exquisite culinary delights presented to the highest caliber. Bring it on!!
In late October I made my way over to the Land of the Rising Sun on a sabbatical to try to really comprehend how rugby is growing in Japan and the fanfare and excitement created around #RWC2019.
My first impressions in Tokyo were that plans were well underway to host the third major global sporting tournament and a buzz was growing amongst the Japanese people. However, I was somewhat delusional inside the bubble of the rugby going public in that first week bookended by the Bledisloe 3 match in Shin-Yokohama on October 27th and the Japanese playing the All Blacks in western Tokyo the week after on November 3. The bubble I refer to was being invited to functions by rugby aficionados in Tokyo from former players of All France, members of the Japanese Rugby Magazine and rugby people at Yokohama Country & Athletic Club.
With my PA, Alisa Okawa, I attended the Third Bledisloe Match between the Australian Wallabies and the New Zealand All Blacks on Saturday, after arriving the day before, at the cavernous Nissan Stadium in Shin Yokohama. Location of the Football World Cup final in 2002 hosted by Japan and South Korea the 72,327-seat stadium attained a record attendance for an international rugby match in Japan with over 46,000 fans watching the Kiwis defeat the Aussies 37-20. An entertaining match with a strong All Blacks side making a clean sweep of the series against a novice Wallabies outfit that will befit greatly from the exposure a year out from the World Cup. In what could be heralded as a preview to the RWC2019 final, as was the case for the RWC2015 final, these two behemoths of the World Cup era in rugby holding three and two Webb Ellis trophies respectively may not end up the finalists after the annus horribilis the Wallabies have endured in 2018 winning only 3 of 12 tests.
The week that followed was catching up with old rugby mates in Tokyo and discussing proposals with stakeholders that set to benefit from Japan hosting the World Cup. I even managed to pull on the boots to play a rugby match at YC&AC in Yokohama over 20 years since I had last played on that ground in the 1990s. To my surprise, there was a schoolboy/girl tournament going on there sponsored by Aussie Beef. Former Brave Blossoms representative and current Toshiba Brave Limpus stalwart, Hiroshi Ono or Kin-chan as the locals call him, was in attendance to give clout to the event that hosted teams from New Zealand and Australia. Great to see rugby being promoted in this soccer/baseball-mad country. I really hope the Japanese Rugby Football Union (JRFU) can really capitalise on the exposure rugby is getting through the RWC2019. Talking with Kyodo news rugby correspondent, Rich Freeman, after my match, he seemed somewhat pessimistic with the Japanese Top League being abandoned for the 2019-20 season. He also thought they should have lowered the ticket price for the Bledisloe Cup match to try for a sellout crowd after the rugby public had just forked out for World Cup tickets. It will be interesting to see how any benefit can come from hosting this event.
For my second week I made my way up into the mountains of central Japan to Nagano where a good friend of mine, Hide, lives in the City of Ueda. He showed me the rugby town of Sugadaira on the outskirts of Ueda where the high school rugby teams from all over Japan gather in summer to go through their paces. Driving through the town you can’t help but be overawed by everything rugby from the rugby ball monument in the centre of town to the Canterbury store, amongst other rugby brands, scattered throughout. Even the 7/11 store caters for sports supplements not common at other franchise locations in Japan. These highlands are where the Italian rugby union team will be based during the six-week tournament starting in September next year.
Heading back to Tokyo for my final weekend I felt somewhat disheartened by the fact that what I initially thought was an excitement for the RWC2019 was, in fact, more a curiosity as to what it would entail. Overshadowed by the Tokyo2020 Olympics, rugby still as a long way to go to capture the minds and souls of this unique homogeneous society reluctant to cash in on the tourism bonanza this event will bring. A chance to really open up and embrace the outside world could be missed unless something drastic is done. I will offer my services to ensure the success of this event and rugby sevens at the Olympics because there is a true bond of camaraderie born from rugby players and their fans.
On Sunday, fans braved the second half rain at Bond University to watch the National Rugby Championship semi-final between last year’s premiers Queensland Country and the Western Force. The star-studded Country outfit did not fail to impress from the getgo with tries aplenty in the first 20 minutes. None more so than 2018 Reds bolter, 18-year-old Jordan Petaia. Some very impressive running from the young Wallabies squad member playing at outside-centre with two tries in 15 minutes under the watchful eye of Reds coach Brad Thorn, who was standing beside me. From our vantage point, Caleb Timu also ran in for a five-pointer, on the blindside, with the Western Force down to 13 men.
Hamish Stewart did not bring his kicking boots which proved costly in the first half as Qld Country went to the sheds up only 20-14, after Western Force kicker, Ian Prior, converted their first two tries. Stewart did make-up for his earlier failures with the boot in the second half with two conversions and two penalty goals, but leaving points out there was scrutinised by Reds coach Thorn.
In the 53rd minute, referee Damon Murphy called the match off due to the lightning in the area, but after about 15 minutes the play was back on. A few spectators left at this juncture, however, there were plenty that stayed, eager to watch more from the impressive Queensland Country outfit. The final score was 45-24 to the home side, booking them a place in next weeks final in Suva against Fiji Drua.
Queensland Country coach, Rod Seib, said, “I’m really pleased with the team’s performance today. The team delivered.”
Some real standout performances by Caleb Timu and Angus Scott-Young that should see them get a future call-up to the Wallabies.
The last Rugby World Cup of the century began with much fanfare at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff two weeks ago. The top seeds won their pool games quite easily through the second week provided some interesting results.
The first real match-ups of rugby heavyweights took place last weekend with New Zealand verse England and Australia v Ireland.
In the former game, England realised it had to play 15-man rugby to repeat their finals appearance of 1991, but the superiority of the All Blacks came to the fore in Jonah Lomu. As in the 1995 tournament, the 58th minute proved Lomu was back with a trademark 60 metre run through the English backs to break the 16-16 deadlock.
New Zealand scored a further try by in-form halfback replacement Byron Kelleher and took the match 30-16.
In the latter match, the passionate Irish couldn’t back up their rough play with any try-scoring opportunities and the Wallabies went away with two tries to win a scrappy contest 23-3.
Instrumental in the win was mid-field saviour Tim Horan. As he was in the successful 1991 campaign three-Cup veteran Horan is the centre of attack.
I caught up with Tim Horan before he and the team left Australia a few weeks ago on a typical early spring day in Brisbane.
In contrast to the light rain that fell at Lansdowne Road before Sunday’s match, blue sky with the sun shining brightly greeted me as I parked out the front of Tim’s Queenslander house. His daughter directed me to ‘the office’ where the interview was conducted.
It had been about 10 years since we played in the Colts (under 19) “Dream Team” that won the 1988 Grand Final convincingly and just like then he can still carve through backlines as he proved with vintage aplomb on Sunday against the Irish.
The Aussie campaign to “Bring back Bill”, the affectionate name they have given the William Webb Ellis trophy, is underway and November 6, just three weeks off, is looming as a very significant day for a young nation entering the new millennium.
For also on that day a referendum will be carried out in Australia to decide whether to become a republic or hold onto a dying monarchy. The players have already voted and Captain John Eales had one regret that they won’t be playing England on that day.
“It would have been good to play England in the final,” he said. “We could stuff them on the field – and stuff them in the vote.”
I asked Tim his opinion as to Australia winning the 1999 World Cup. He said, “We have a fairly good chance, but Ireland won’t be easy.”
“At the moment we are concentrating mainly on Wales in the quarters”.
He didn’t seem too concerned about Larkham’s injury noting that it was not as bad as the thumb injury he sustained in a Super 12 match where he had to go off at halftime.
His lack of concern proved justified as Larkham had a solid return to test match level rugby last Sunday and again yesterday against the Americans.
‘At the moment we are concentrating on Wales in the quarters’
Australia’s chances of regaining the Webb Ellis trophy are looking pretty good. As Bob Dwyer stated in his 1992 autobiography that the best two prepared teams contested the final in 1991 and should that be the case this time the Wallabies (and the Kiwis) are starting to come good at the right time.
An emphatic win over the Kiwis at Stadium Australia, 34-9, in front of 107,000+ people was a psychological shot in the arm after some lacklustre games preceding it.
“The atmosphere was ecstatic…great for Australian rugby”, Tim said. “Crowd support like that is something we don’t often get in Australia.”
“In New Zealand and South Africa you come to expect to play 16 (including the crowd) but at Stadium Australia it was excellent.”
This game provided the springboard for Australia’s assault at retaining rugby’s Holy Grail, the Webb Ellis trophy.
In a year that has seen our cricketers, hockey and netball players win their respective world championships it would be another piece of silverware on the mantelpiece of a proud young nation.
Australia’s first match of the tournament was against Romania in Belfast. Once again Tim Horan proved too good for the weak defence and scored in less time then it takes to pour a pint of Guinness (119 seconds).
For his effort, sponsors Guinness will donate £10,000 to the charity of his choice (this probably should go to the under-financed Romanian rugby team).
The tournament run by the Five Nations has had its detractors noting the lop-sided results. But as Sydney Morning Herald writer Peter FitzSimons says, “Wouldn’t rugby league love the chance to show it had a similar array of cultures, backgrounds and socio-economic firepower united through a common passion?”
When Australia hosts the next rugby World Cup in 2003 these same arguments will be brought out along with the problems of where each game will be held.
As rugby has become professional the bottom line has been to make as much return from the game as is put in and that means bums on seats.
At the present World Cup, we have seen good numbers at games in England, France and Wales but poor ones for matches in Scotland.
The Scottish Rugby Union is responsible for this balls-up due to their traditional opposition to any innovations or improvements of the game and their initial rejection of having a World Cup when first raised by the IRB.
I remember asking a Scottish friend about tickets for the World Cup early this year and he told me that even the clubs are finding it hard to obtain any – what a travesty that has proven
Fast forward to 2003 where the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) is calling the shots, will the spectators be looked after then?
Will Queensland, a strong backyard for Wallaby talent, be overlooked for the choice matches by Melbourne; or even Perth?
ARU head, John O’Neill has decided not to give Brisbane a Bledisloe Cup match next year opting for Melbourne where rugby is hardly played because they can guarantee numbers through the turnstiles.
However, when I asked Tim about the lack of major test matches in Brisbane he cited that only 34,000 people came to Suncorp Stadium for the Tri-nations match against South Africa in July.
With the present debates over a super-stadium in Brisbane in the professional age of rugby, Queensland may be left out on a limb.
The debacle when Queensland topped the Super 12 and was given a home semi-final over whether to play at Ballymore or Suncorp Stadium meant that those schoolboys who supported the Reds all season weren’t allowed to use their schoolboy passes.
Subsequently, many locals boycotted and a proportionally larger Kiwi contingent turned up to see Canterbury outplay an uninterested Queensland side.
A further point I raised with Tim was that of the end of season Rico Challenge played between Queensland, New South Wales and ACT.
He supported the concept saying it is a good way for fringe players to get a Super 12 contract.
Although spectators to these games are low if marketed properly and positioned better in the rugby calendar, as proposed, we may see this problem overcome.
Finally, I asked Tim of his plans after the World Cup.
“Well I have another year to go on my Super 12 contract, but after that, I’d like to play in Europe”, he said.
“The pressure of Super 12 and test matches are great and I’d like to relax for a while with my family”.
No chance of following in your father’s footsteps and entering politics?
“No way!!!” he replied.
“You could give me a million bucks for a day in politics and I’d say no.
“For all the hard work my father does he doesn’t seem to get any popular response”.
The interview ended at 3pm as Tim apologized that he had to pick up one of the kids from school.
This weekend the final pool matches of the World Cup will be wrapped up with Pool D looking the closest; the clash between France and Fiji to determine the winner of Pool C being unclear; and England against Tonga no certainty.
“You could give me a million bucks for a day in politics and I’d say no.”
New Zealand’s hundred plus points against Italy was very impressive while Australia’s line was crossed for the first time this tournament by the USA, but went on to win 55-19.
Finishing the top of pool E Australia is guaranteed a semi-final berth, however, they will be without star running loose forward Toutai Kefu banned for 14 days for his toe-to-toe with Ireland’s enforcer Trevor Brennan.
Australian coach Rod McQueen was upset about the “selective citations”, but acknowledges the tournament has been well run.
Whichever team holds aloft the Webb Ellis trophy on November 6 rugby will be the real winner.
The morning rain did not dampen the spirits of Brisbane’s rugby faithful, with a healthy 3,000+ braving the cool spring conditions for the latest instalment of the Quade Cooper/Karmichael Hunt double act. Wests’ impressive Sci-Fleet Stadium hosted the Round 5 Brisbane City/Queensland Country clash for the Andy Purcell Cup, once again attracting rain and a healthy blend of rugby diehards and novices. Not all were there for Cooper’s kick off to highly-fancied, reigning Premiers, Bond University Queensland Country. As rugby people tend to do, rocking up in the first 10 minutes is normal, so by the time Hamish Stewart crossed the chalk to open the account for Country in the 18th minute, a boisterous crowd split roughly 50/50 were assembled. The beers and cheers were still flowing two minutes later when the Cooper/Hunt show produced their first act to set up their captain, Adam Korczyk for a try. Cooper missed the conversion leaving the score 7-5 to Country, setting up the afternoon for a see-sawing affair.
Plenty of media interest
Sun was shining.
Brisbane City got the jump on their more fancied rivals to go to the break up 22-12, however, it wasn’t long into the 2nd half before Tom Lucas crossed for Queensland Country to narrow the margin. By the 52nd minute, it was 29-24 to City after Country’s halfback, Tate McDermott received a Hamish Stewart purler to cross the chalk, keeping Country in touch, however, Cooper had his kicking boots on and opted for a long-range penalty to extend their lead. Replacement hooker Sean Farrell sealed City’s fourth Andy Purcell Cup in five outings going over after a maul and with Cooper’s conversion saw Brisbane City win 39-24 over last year’s premiers, Queensland Country.
The match can be best summed up by the words of City coach Mick Heenan,
“Country is such a good side and we’ve got a lot of respect for how they’ve been playing and their players as well, so certainly that’s the best we’ve played and defended all season.
“The spirit and the fight that we showed was outstanding. We needed to win to keep our season alive and we’ve got to keep winning and we can’t take anything for granted, so we have to keep at it, keep persisting and keep fighting,” Heenan added.
The first round of the Finals Series began last weekend at Ballymore with minor premiers, UQ, taking on strong finishers GPS in the major semi-final at 3pm. Uni got away to an early lead 3-0 with a penalty kick, as the crowd started to assemble for the first semi. I found myself in a very vocal GPS’ supporters group, buoyed by their finals day and were hoping they could erase the 54-5 shellacking their girls received in the Women’s GF against a strong Sunnybank team.
In, the major semi-final, what I thought was going to be a walk in the park for the Red Heavies turned out to be a real arm-wrestle with the Galloping Greens from Ashgrove strong until the final whistle. The last 10 minutes was riveting stuff with the Smith twins, Reds’ JP & Ruan, in the front row dominating at scrum time, with eventually the UQ tight-head prop being yellow carded with less than 10 minutes on the clock. Unversity of Queensland was just too strong, inevitably holding on to win 24-21 and to go straight into the Grand Final in two weeks time, whilst GPS have to play Easts next Sunday at Ballymore for a 3.05PM kick-off after they defeated Souths 25-17.
Bathed in beautiful winter sun in the western suburbs of Brisbane at Yoku Road, top of the table clash in the Hospital Challenge Cup between GPS and Souths took place last Saturday. Ladies Day at the Ashgrove Sports Ground meant for a healthy spectator turnout, 3000+, with plenty of Reds contracted players for both teams turning out for a great afternoon of local club rugby. A pity Raelene Castle was not present to witness grassroots rugby, the bloodline for Super Rugby and the Wallabies, at its raw best. The Honorable Member for Ashgrove, Education & Tourism Minister Kate Jones, was out there enjoying champagne in the Ladies Tent and was not averse to mingling with the strong crowd from both teams during the match.
After the 3.20pm kickoff, both teams went at each other hammer and tong ensuring running rugby was the game we had come to watch. Recalcitrant Reds prop JP Smith led the charge resulting in a penalty try to Jeeps within the first 10 minutes after Souths tight-head prop, Jake Simeon, was yellow-carded for collapsing. The Magpies were not disheartened with a pep talk from the sideline from injured fly-half, Quade Cooper, inspiring the men in black to run in three expansive tries to lead 19-7. But the Ashgrove lads regrouped under Man of the Match half-back, Jordan Lenac, and equalled the score by the half-time break 19-all.
Everyone was braced for the second half as the last rays of sunlight slipped behind the western hills and the grounds lighting was turned on. What ensued was fast-paced attacking rugby with neither side letting up until GPS scored two tries to lead 26-19 with 20 minutes to go. Souths were valiant in their reply with Eto Nabuli running in out-wide after the sustained attack on the left flank. With No. 1 supporter Quade Cooper, now positioned behind Souths goalposts giving constant encouragement to his teammates, the Magpies threw everything at the Galloping Greens, but they never gave up and managed to register Souths first loss of the season. The loss was not enough to dislodge Southern Districts from the top of the Hospital Challenge Cup table on 23 points, but the students at Queensland Uni delivered a mighty 45-29 victory over Western Districts, despite the strong showing from Scott Higginbotham, to leap ahead of GPS with a bonus point to go clear in second place on 20 points. Eastern Districts and GPS on 19 points round out the top four.