There’s a lot to like about this 2020 Reds side despite only one win from six outings. Easing Brisbanerugby favourite Izaac Lukus back into the starting pivot as James O’Conner sits out this week with the ankle injury he sustained in last weeks loss to the Sharks at Lang Park. I like what Brad Thorn is doing over at Ballymore resting his chargers, such as livewire halfback Tate McDermott coming off the pine today in Christchurch as he has chosen to start with Samoan national rep, Scott Malolua at 9. Also, Wallaby utility forward, Lukan Salakaia-Loto is back starting replacing Izack Rodda (calf niggle) in the second row, with Angus Scott-Young retained as blind side flanker.
I’m thinking 2010 Reds under Ewen McKenzie and we all know what happened in 2011.
Every cloud has a silver lining and if the Sunwolves play their cards right they may not have to disband after Super Rugby 2020. With Global Rapid Rugby starting up next month the Sunwolves could be part of the action next year. After Saturday’s 64-5 mauling by a resurgent Queensland Reds side they may be better suited to Global Rapid Rugby with a more open style of play that suits the Japanese team’s strengths. Holding onto players will be an issue, but with a swarth of ex-internationals calling Japan their rugby home there’s plenty of talent to draw from that well.
When Wayne Smith broached the idea of joining Rapid Rugby after the Reds’ match on Saturday night, he was stonewalled with a flat bat. However, that’s the Japanese way, i.e. to confront issues by not making decisions. Brisbanerugby spent 4 months beating our head against the wall after RWC2019 in Tokyo talking to various interested parties, gleaning much insight into how the JRFU is not interested with any expansion outside the rigid paradigm of their precious Top League. Despite this WE WILL continue to push their barrow.
Almost 12,000 people (official crowd 11,798) watched the first home match for the Reds at Suncorp Stadium last night; a 37% increase from the 8,600 that last year watched this fixture against the Sunwolves. Scoring 10 tries to 1, to win 64-5, is sure to bring the faithful supporters back and Brad Thorn said he was very excited about this team. He said, having someone like Hunter Paisami coming in for the injured Jordan Petaia was a revelation. A player in the mold that Thorn likes; trains hard with a good attitude.
Thorn has said earlier this season that his younger chargers have been progressing for a number of years, whether it be Schoolboys, U19s, U20s or NRC: “90% of our players have come through the system here in Queensland, which shows what we are trying to do here.”
The prodigal son, Jame O’Conner, erased his 2015 Reds nightmare last night as he orchestrated the Reds highest ever Super Rugby score; eclipsing there previous best 53-3 in 2011 against the Rebels..
Brad Thorn’s men are back at their Suncorp fortress, al beit up against a few prodigal sons in their opponents, The Sunwolves, this Saturday. Headed by former Reds No. 8 Jake Schatz (CEGS/Sunnybank), captaining the much maligned Tokyo franchise. Journeyman Ben Te’o is in the Japanese side making a return to Lang Park, a ground he called home when playing for the Brisbane Broncos NRL side. He also played here for England (his mum’s English) when Eddie Jones gave him a call after RWC2015; born in New Zealand he did attend Keebra Park H.S. for Grade 12 he told me Wednesday at their training run up at Souths Rugby Chipsy Wood Ground.
Another Brisbane favourite son Ben Lucas who’s in the Sunwolves squad was left behind in Tokyo. Maybe he didn’t want to play against his younger brother, Isaac. The youngest Lucas brother had a breakout last year with the Junior Wallabies side beating the Junior All Blacks 24-0 on the Gold Coast and just going down to the French side in the U20s World Cup final in Argentina.
Also, rugby great Tim Horan’s son, Alex, is in the greater squad flying into Brisbane on Monday to cover for a Tongan winger injury concern. They fly straight to New Zealand as they play the Hurricanes in Wellington the following weekend. Tim told me yesterday that his son has been training with the Sunwolves squad for 6-weeks now.
The last time Townsville saw international rugby was 2003 when Fiji played Japan in RWC2003. Townsville MP, Scott Stewart, has announced that the Wallabies will play Fiji at the new downtown stadium on July 18th as part of a double header with the Wallaroos taking on Third ranked Canada. He said, “It’s the State Government that’s built a brand new stadium in Townsville and it’s the State Government that’s leading negotiations to make sure it’s filled.”
Tourism Development Minister Kate Jones has given the green light for this and other rugby content to utilise the new stadium in 2020/21 .
“Scott lobbied hard for a new Townsville Stadium for years. And he’s been harassing me for months about securing new footy content in 2020 and 2021. It’s early days but the calendar is looking great,” she said.
How long has it been since the Reds have scored four tries in a match let alone the first half? Brad Thorn’s decision to position his best play-maker at 10 was a masterstroke. James O’Conner combining with a young back-line shows that the Reds will go deep into rebuilding the side for a crack at winning another title. I was re-mincing how Ewen McKenzie rebuilt the Reds in 2010 to win the Super Rugby trophy in 2011.
That first half in Buenos Aires against last year’s runner up was sublime, vintage Reds performance. The second half only added three points, so the hapless boys from Queensland went down 27-43 to the Jaguares.
Well technically not, as it’s only the third biggest global sporting event. A mere 20 nations qualifying after an exhaustive elimination process, however, the tournament is three times longer at six-weeks and 12 venues from Hokkaido to Kyushu. The influx of foreign invaders will be the greatest since Commodore Perry’s arrival in 1853 at Shimoda.
Perennial favourites the All Blacks from New Zealand will be looking for an unprecedented three-peat, having won the last two incarnations in 2011 & 2015. Although, Ireland will go into the tournament as World No. 1, due to the quirky World Rugby algorithm that determines placings. Never before have the ‘Men in Green’ made a RWC Final, although their Quarter-Final match against RWC1991 winners, the Wallabies, at Landsdown Road will go down as ‘the one that got away‘.
The teams descending on Japan, somewhat delayed due to Typhoon Faxai, should be embraced by the Japanese populous along with the tsunami of international supporters. Rugby people are a different breed: beer-swilling aficionados as opposed to football (soccer in the English speaking world outside of England) hooligans. They will appreciate the culture, the ceremonies, the nature and the history that abounds there; as well as the onsen or hot springs, the most renowned are found in Beppu, Kyushu; with matches played in Oita, including two very important quarter-finals, these are a must-see (map below).
Visiting Japan 12 months out from the Rugby World Cup I got a sense that the ‘general’ Japanese population were somewhat unaware of the tournament. When questioned they would reply with, “Tokyo 2020?” Just last week at a theme park on the Gold Coast some university students visiting from Japan on their summer break in Australia looked puzzled when I said I was going to Japan for the Rugby World Cup (admittedly, they were from Ibaraki Prefecture, an hour or so north of Tokyo on the Joban Line, where no matches are being played). Also in Australia, when people ask why I am going to Japan the response often is, “Do they play rugby in Japan?”
Undoubtedly, when RWC2019begins this Friday at Ajinomoto Stadium the vast majority will get on board. Not everyone is a diehard rugby fan, but when a spectacle such as the Rugby World Cup is on your doorstep you can be assured that the populous will respond and Japanese ‘omotenashi‘ (hospitality) will come to the fore. At the 2015 tournament, 25 million in Japan tuned in to watch Japan v Samoa on their television sets, so the interest is there. The other takeout from that tournament held in the UK was the 34-32 last-minute win over the Springboksby the Japanese Brave Blossoms; recreated in cinema with the just-released “Miracle in Brighton“.
Rugby Union has a long history in Japan dating from 1866 in Yokohama and, while being more popular in the universities, the company based Top League has started to attract larger crowds. Unfortunately, Japan’s Super Rugbyteam the Sunwolves will be axed from the competition after the 2020 season, though I’m sure their company based Top League will eventually open up to international teams from Hong Kong and Perth (convincing the JRFU will be a challenge, though).
All and all this bodes well for a spectacular tournament that I am very much looking forward to attending. 楽しみですネ‼
Having returned from just over a month in North Queensland, I am buoyed by the fact that the boutique sport of rugby union in Australia is growing healthily in the regional areas of Queensland. Despite not being able to watch my beloved Queensland Reds play Super Rugby on one of Townsville’s The Ville Casino’s numerous television screens, I did encounter plenty of diehard rugby people in FNQ, none more so than my mate Severin “Bunny” Andreassen from Brothers Cairns, now the President of Brothers Juniors in Townsville. His son Jack is a rugby development officer for Townsville and District Rugby Union (TDRU)and shows a passion for the game like his father. I watched him play a spirited match for Brothers’ 1st Grade side against a strong Teachers-West at Mike Carney Toyota Park (above, where I had played myself for a Brisbane Colts v North Queenslandside, back in the day).
Club rugby in Townsville has this year seen the merger of Western Districts with James Cook University (JCU)which WestsPresident, Athol Giddens, told me was a much needed shot in the arm for both clubs -especially since JCU had recently started a rugby league team. The 2019 amalgamation has provided a junior club for JCU to develop players from and proper training facilities, with lighting –far superior to Wests‘ previous locations, I was told. I watched them going through their paces at the university under the guidance of Kiwi ex-pat, Campbell Yates, whom Giddens would like to have several of. “The main issue is finding quality coaches and getting them accredited with Level 1 and 2 coaching certificates from the QRU,” Giddens said.
The tyranny of distance is always an issue in the bush. However, they are rugged people up north and travelling over an hour one way for a Saturday fixture is not unheard of. Charters Towers is over an hour and a half away and they are in the Townsville competition, along with Burdekin and Ingham. Brothers Townsville are traditionally the stronghold, though lately Teachers-West has built up their ranks and have two quality backs in Curtis Rayment and Josh Fletcher. Both these local boys orchestrated Teachers’ 54-0 win over a young Brothers side, in a match where plenty of passion was on display.
During my time in Townsville, I also met Brolgas stalwart coach, John Rauch, for many lunchtime conversations at the school we were both teaching at. Originally from New South Wales, he has taken a passionate interest in the rugby scene in North Queensland over the past 30 odd years, playing for Brothers Townsville before being involved in coaching. Every two years, around Easter, Rauchtakes a representative side from Townsville, under the Brolgas banner, to Japan to play select schools over there. Later this year, he will take a team from The Cathedral School to Europe for rugby union matches -another bi-annual trip he organises at his school.
Last week, the Queensland Junior State Championships were held at Downlands College in Toowoomba. It was great to see representative teams from all over the State, including the Brolgas from Townsville. One of my students who I had seen play in Townsville made the U13 Brolgas side which I was pretty chuffed about. Next month we see Townsville host the annual Queensland School Sport (QSS) 11-12 years rugby union championship, which bodes well for the future of our code. In a rugby league stronghold, ‘the game they play in heaven’ is in good hands.
The audacity of Israel Folau to launch a ‘Go fund me’ page in an effort to raise $3 million to fund his legal battle against Rugby Australia is bewildering, to say the least. Let’s not forget that it was Israel Folau who made a Homophobic Social Media post which led to Folau’s sacking by Rugby Australia. Whether Rugby Australia was justified in sacking Folau or not will now be decided in the Courts, but for Folau in effect to ask the Public to fund his Legal case is a sad indictment of where Folau is now at and the poor advice that he is receiving. It would appear that Folau has conveniently forgotten what he wrote last year when he stated that if he was “hurting Rugby Australia, it’s sponsors and the Australian Rugby Community to such a degree that things couldn’t be worked through – I would walk away from My contract, immediately” (Players Voice, 2018).
Some former Wallabies greats Mark Gerrard and Drew Mitchell, in particular, have come out and slammed Folau for his plea for fans to fund his Legal action to the extent that Mitchell posted the following on Twitter.
“YOU are in a fight that YOU chose to be in after YOU broke the terms of YOUR contract, the kids below are in a fight they NEVER wanted to be in & yet YOU think YOU deserve donations more than they do?!!”
Mitchell was referring to a ‘Go Fund Me’ page set up to help a child with ‘Neuroblastoma’.
Folau has now caused a deep divide in the Australian Rugby Community and hurts a lot of people across all walks of Life, the questions that have to be asked are, was it all worth it and is Israel Folau his own Man, or is he being driven and guided by his Father?