Are the Japanese Serious About Improving Rugby?

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 opportunity for 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.

LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 19: Eddie Jones the head coach of England looks on during the Old Mutual Wealth series match between England and Fiji at Twickenham Stadium on November 19, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

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.

Japan’s Brave Blossoms celebrate their 34-32 victory over South Africa at RWC2015. Photo courtesy of Getty

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.

Meeting Hitoshi Ono at YC&AC in Yokohama, September 2018.
CJ with Japanese rugby legend Hitoshi Ono at an Aussie Beef rugby tournament at YC &AC

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.

CJ at Ajinomoto Stadium last year.Courtesy of @brisbanerugby on Instagram
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Fairwell to Folau

Sayonara and thanks for the memories.

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.

People’s lives are not for me to judge. Only God can do that.”

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.

Wishing you the best for your life in the future

CJ

Before the Sun Sets on the Sunwolves

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.

The Sunwolves are hunting in a pack. Photo courtesy of Getty Sports

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.

CJ and Brad Thorn might have a side bet on the result.. Photo courtesy of @brisbanerugby on Instagram

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 the reduced price of $25. Payment can be made up until the day before the event through a special HSBC Australia account BSB: 344-032. Account Number: 032-19859-412.

See you there

CJ