Last Tuesday night at Bond University on the Gold Coast the Japanese women’s rugby team, known as the Sakura 15, defeated the Wallaroos 12 to 10. Despite 10 personnel and positional changes due to COVID Tests on the eve the match, they were able to overcome their more fancied rivals.
The first half was dominated by the decidedly larger Aussie side in both scrums and lineouts. However, the tenacious Japanese side made their tackles and held them out to keep the score at nil-all going to the sheds.
In the second half it was No. 10 Ayasa Otsuka that kicked through a dropped ball by the Wallaroos in their own 22 to snatch a try in the 49th minute. She successfully converted her try to put the Sakura 15 ahead 7-0.
The Wallaroos continued to work the ball downfield and off a rolling maul, Ashley Masteri, was in for the Aussies first score. The Sakura 15 put some good phases together and eventually put Kyoko Hosokawa in to extend their lead to 12-5. However, the Wallaroos were not going to give in and Adiana Talakai managed to cross out wide. Once again Lori Crammer missed the conversion so the score remained 10-12. Crammer had an easier penalty shot in the 79th minute to steal the match for the Wallaroos, but was unsuccessful. Crammer’s 0 and 3 with the boot proved decisive for the home team.
The short turnaround from Friday night’s 36-19 demolition of Fijiana at Suncorp Stadium was no excuse for Jay Tregonning fielding the same 23. The last time the two sides met on the 19th of July, 2019, the Aussies won 46-3 after beating them 34-5 on the 13th of July, 2019. The only other time the two side have met was the 17th of August, 2017, at the Rugby World Cup in Ireland where the Wallaroos were also victorious winning 29-15.
It was history making on the Gold Coast for the Sakura 15 with plenty of Japanese in the crowd. This bodes well for their campaign for the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand later this year in October/November.
Heading in to Round 5 of Super Rugby Pacific, only the Brumbies and the Reds remain undefeated. They face off against each other this Friday in Canberra to see which team remains undefeated for the 2022 season. The matchup between Tom Banks and Jordan Petaia at fullback will be interesting ahead of Wallaby selection. Petaia played a great game there for the Reds in his first chance to run on with the 15 jersey. Both in attack and defence he imposed himself as a real contender for the Wallaby role there.
An injury ravaged Reds held out Fijian Drua at the weekend, ironically, it was a Fijian in Seru Uru that saved the Reds from an embarrassing result. Up four tries to nil with 15 minutes to go it looked like the Reds were heading for a bonus point victory until the visitors scored three unanswered tries in quick succession. With less than 10 minutes remaining on the clock the scores were locked at 28-all before Uru reached over from a maul to score a five-pointer taking the score to 33-28 to the Reds. That is not where the drama ended as Uru stole a lineout off the Fijians on the Queensland line at the fulltime mark to deny them drawing level or even winning.
Coach Brad Thorn said, “For our team, a game like that can be a challenge because there’s space and there’s opportunities but you’ve almost got to rein it in a little bit.
“Keep your patience, don’t overplay – that’s probably how I would assess that.”
Uru’s (pictured above) standout performance has made Thorn’s job a little bit harder this week with the expected return of captain Liam Wright in the position Uru was playing. It’s really a good headache to have knowing that the Reds have depth and that the guys will really put in for each other when their chance comes. That depth will be really tested on Friday when they come up against the Brumbies that are also in red hot form.
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