Tag Archives: Springboks

Are the Japanese Serious About Improving Rugby?

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 opportunity for 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.

LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 19: Eddie Jones the head coach of England looks on during the Old Mutual Wealth series match between England and Fiji at Twickenham Stadium on November 19, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

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.

Japan’s Brave Blossoms celebrate their 34-32 victory over South Africa at RWC2015. Photo courtesy of Getty

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.

Meeting Hitoshi Ono at YC&AC in Yokohama, September 2018.
CJ with Japanese rugby legend Hitoshi Ono at an Aussie Beef rugby tournament at YC &AC

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.

CJ at Ajinomoto Stadium last year.Courtesy of @brisbanerugby on Instagram
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Rugby World Cup 2019 Comes to Japan

12 of the 20 team jerseys that will be attending #RWC2019 in Japan.
Some of the team jerseys that will be at the RWC2019. Photo courtesy of CJ on Instagram @brisbanerugby.

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.

Nelson Mandela presenting the Webb Ellis Trophy to Francoise Pienaar RWC 1995. Photo courtesy of news.com.au

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.

Despondent All Blacks side after RWC1999 semi-final loss to France. Photo courtesy of planetrugby.com

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.

Los Puma’s halfback, Augustin Pichot, celebrates after their 17-12 victory over hosts France in the opening match of RWC 2007. Photo courtesy of The Irish Times.

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.

New Zealand All Blacks do the Haka ahead of the RWC 2011 Final with France. Photo courtesy of the Irish Times.

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.

The jubilation on the Japanese team’s faces after defeating South Africa in RWC 2015 in Brighton. Photo courtesy of telgraph.co.uk

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.

4年に一度じゃない。
一生に一度だ。

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!!

The Wallabies at Odawara Castle near their training facilities. Photo courtesy of CJ on Instagram @brisbanerugby