What was billed as a double header with four nations involved turned out to be a fizzer due to coronavirus with a paltry 7335 swallowed by the cavernous 52,000-seat Suncorp Stadium. Not that the action on the field suffered. With the tenacious Sunwolves holding out the mighty crusaders in the first half nearly going to the break 7-all. It was only basic errors up against a far superior opponent that meant that the scoreline got away to14-49 loss, despite their numerical advantage of two players at the death. Jake Shatz said he was proud of the way his boys stuck it to the more fancied Kiwis and as the Japanese coach, Naoya Okubo, told me after the match that the camaraderie amongst his squad being away from their Tokyo base for so long has been great. Of course, having a few local Aussie members has helped and there has been no shortage of local clubs bending over backwards to provide training pitches non gratis.
The Reds, unaffected by the lower then normal turnout, proved my early assessment correct that this cohort will go places. Down 0-17 they dug deep to show the faithful that their 4-try haul against the Crusaders last week could be backed up scoring 41 unanswered points to win 41-17. Captain courageous, Liam Wright (picture courtesy of Brendan Hertel QRU), has put Michael Hooper on notice that his cushy multi-million dollar contract might mean he can purchase more houses on Sydney’s North Shore but he doesn’t haven’t a mortgage on the Wallabies position.
Another massive performance from Lukan Salakai-Loto, who told me after the match he prefers No. 6 for the Wallabies, and BrisbaneRugby favourite son Isaac Lucus added to the positives from this match ahead of Super Rugby going into a hiatus. And when live-wire halfback Tate McDermott came on the team lifted another notch.
The nomadic Sunwolves should make the Sunshine State their home base in their final Super Rugby season, moreover Townsville in the north with a new 25,000-seat stadium. It would be a win-win for all parties concerned starting with their match against the Reds on April 5. The north has been crying out for a Super Rugby match, something they haven’t experienced since 2006 and, as I reported last year, there is a healthy following of rugby union up there: https://brisbanerugby.com/2019/07/09/rugby-in-the-regions/.
With the onset of coronavirus tourism has had a huge setback and I’m sure Tourism & Events Minister, Kate Jones, would bend over backwards to help the Japanese team out. The extra Japanese eyeballs on the area would be welcome, especially if they played out the rest of their ‘home’ games there and their Tokyo supporters made there way to Tropical Queensland.
The Sunwolves are like ronin, or masterless samurai, although they are a motley crew of ex-pat Aussie, Kiwis, South Africans and some Japanese they do have some local Queensland representatives, such as captain Jake Shatz, to build some domestic support behind moving forward especially if they evolve into a team in Global Rapid Rugby next season. I know Tim Horan’s son Alex, who debuted for the Sunwolves two weeks ago in New Zealand, has two compatriots in Townsville at James Cook University that played Colts with him in Brisbane that would be getting behind the side.
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..
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.
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?
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.