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.
If reports out of France are true it’s au voire to Kurtley Beale as they will pay for his retirement through French Club Racing 92. Good riddance I’d say as he’s well past his use-by date, costing us a semifinal berth at RWC2019 last year. I know he had to go along to Cheika’s Waratahs swansong in Japan as reward for winning the Super Rugby title in 2014; though when is enough enough? I still remember how he lined up for that unmissable final kick at Lang Park in 2013 to defeat the British & Irish Lions in Game 1; what a disgrace. He may have slotted that 50m+ bomb at Loftus to break a Wallaby drought of wins on the high veldt, but that British & Irish Lions debacle was a bridge too far. Giving him the captaincy at the weekend didn’t change a thing, Kurtley is still Kurtley Beale; when he’s good he’s very very good, but when he’s bad he’s awful.
I said it before, and I’ll say it again. “There’s a lot to like about the Reds of 2020”. With James O’Conner nursing an ankle injury, Brad Thorn gave BrisbaneRugby favourite son, Izaac Lukus (pictured with CJ), a licence to thrill in the No. 10 jersey and he didn’t disappoint. Up against All Black pivot Richie Mo’unga he was not afraid to take on the champion defence. The most successful team in the 25 years of Super Rugby were unsure of how to take the young Queenslanders; they even looked rattled in attack. Thorn knows how well they prepare at home, being a past Crusaders player himself, so he would have been delighted with the narrow loss. My daughter even noted the 20-24 loss saying that the Reds must have been ‘aweful’ and I informed her that the Reds actually scored 4 tries to 3; leaving 8 points on the field.
Along with my Souths Rugby Club compatriot, Andrew Slack, I was equally concerned why the rotation policy had meant that live-wire halfback, Tate McDermott. wasn’t in the run-on 15 for this must win clash. They opted for Samoan halfback, Scott Malolua to have over an hour of game time. Admittedly, Lukan Salakai-Loto showed his rest from the starting 15 last week earned him Green & Gold MOM this week.
Timely return to Ballymore for English kicking guru, Dave Alred. The Kiwis can, South Africa can. How good would it be to have a Leigh Halfpenny, a Dan Bigger or even Owen Farrell all banging over 100% at Twickenham over the weekend in their Round Four clash. Three tries a piece but the scoreline read England 33-30 over Wales. It’s what makes the Guinness Six Nations so attractive to corporate sponsorship. Game management by England was key to their weekend win and another Triple Crown. Raelene Castle should be checking Eddie Jones’ contractual arrangements, to try to get him back in time for France 2023 World Cup. (Full report of Six Nations RD #4: https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/77206314/posts/2617244225)
With Andrew Twiggy Forrest’s Global Rapid Rugby speeding up the game with shorter halves. Alan Jones wrote in The Australian on Friday about extending the time, allegedly to account for ‘time wasting’ with scrums. As with The Australian’s Rugby Editor, Wayne Smith, I too was intrigued by the novel concept of extending the halves by 5 minutes to match football, ie. soccer.
Aussie 7s in Vancouver were unlucky to go down 14-17 to the NZ 7s in the HSBC Sevens Series Cup final. Aussie 7s haven’t beaten the Kiwis in a 7s final since Brisbane 2002.
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.
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..
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.
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.”
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.