The rejection of the “Moana Pasifika“ bid to join the NZ Super Rugby Competition in 2021 by the NZ Rugby Union is hard to comprehend and shows a lack of willingness on their part to expand the Super Rugby Competition and to grow the game of Rugby Union in the Pacific Islands.
The ‘Moana Pasifika‘ offer had been prepared meticulously and presented with a feasibility plan that contained more than 100 pages of cost analysis, possible squads and coaching teams.
On the one hand the NZ Rugby Union have said that they are going to make losses of $100 Million, yet the ‘Moana Pasifika‘ proposal was expected to make a profit in their very first season! So how realistic was that expectation by the NZ Rugby Union? That being said the ‘Moana Pasifika‘ process showed through their projected sums that they could break even in 2021. The Pacific Islands has been a nursery for producing some brilliant All Blacks over a long period of time, you only need to look at twolegendary figures of the game inSir Bryan Williams andSir Michael Joneswho are a credit to the game of Rugby Union, are proud of their heritage and who have been passionately backing and campaigning for a ‘Moana Pasifika‘ side to join the Super Rugby since 1995.
It goes without saying what it would do for the development of Rugby Union in the Pacific Islands and how it would inspire and motivate young boys to follow their dreams if the ‘Moana Pasifika’ bid had been successful.
Now to make their vision a reality the ‘Moana Pasifika‘ bid may be forced to revise their offer and shift the team from their proposed base in South Auckland to Western Sydney and play in the Australian Super Rugby AU Competition.
It can only be hoped that the NZ Rugby Union will reconsider their decision on the ‘Moana Pasifika’ proposal, which has a lot of merit and look at it from all different angles.
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‼
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.