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..
Brad Thorn’s men are back at their Suncorp fortress, al beit up against a few prodigal sons in their opponents, The Sunwolves, this Saturday. Headed by former Reds No. 8 Jake Schatz (CEGS/Sunnybank), captaining the much maligned Tokyo franchise. Journeyman Ben Te’o is in the Japanese side making a return to Lang Park, a ground he called home when playing for the Brisbane Broncos NRL side. He also played here for England (his mum’s English) when Eddie Jones gave him a call after RWC2015; born in New Zealand he did attend Keebra Park H.S. for Grade 12 he told me Wednesday at their training run up at Souths Rugby Chipsy Wood Ground.
Another Brisbane favourite son Ben Lucas who’s in the Sunwolves squad was left behind in Tokyo. Maybe he didn’t want to play against his younger brother, Isaac. The youngest Lucas brother had a breakout last year with the Junior Wallabies side beating the Junior All Blacks 24-0 on the Gold Coast and just going down to the French side in the U20s World Cup final in Argentina.
Also, rugby great Tim Horan’s son, Alex, is in the greater squad flying into Brisbane on Monday to cover for a Tongan winger injury concern. They fly straight to New Zealand as they play the Hurricanes in Wellington the following weekend. Tim told me yesterday that his son has been training with the Sunwolves squad for 6-weeks now.
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‼
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.
Last year in Tokyo the Sunwolves set ChiChiBu-no-Miya Stadium alight with their sublime 63-28 demolition of the lackluster Queensland Reds. In March, at the same stadium in Tokyo, in front of a boisterous crowd, a repeat was on the cards until the Reds scored to level at 31-all near the end and Hamish Stewart manged a penalty goal after full-time to get the Reds out of jail with their first win of the season 34-31.
Two weeks ago they defeated the NSW Waratahs 31-29 in a Friday match at Newcastle Stadium. In March they had beaten the Waikato Chiefs in Hamilton, New Zealand, 30-15, for their first away win. Unfortunately, SANZAAR later decided, with the JFRU withdrawing their support, that the team will be cut from Super Rugby after the completion of the 2020 media contract. With the Top League overlapping the Super Rugby season next year, the Sunwolves won’t be as strong as they are displaying this year; more reason to attend.
Find the event at Brisbanerugby.com on Facebook and show your interest by giving me an indication of how many tickets you would like at a reduced price. Payment can be made up until the day before the event through the Commonwealth Bank, Australia account Brisbanerugby BSB: 064-128. Account Number: 10373547.
Back in 2016, a major revolution was afoot with the expansion of Super Rugby to 18 teams across six countries, four unions, both hemisphere’s and numerous time zones. The convoluted system incorporating four conferences was too hard to comprehend and player fatigue due to frequent flyer mileage was a factor that was difficult to manage. Micromanagement saw the teams culled to 15, but this is also seen as too cumbersome and a new 14 or 15-team competition will begin after the current broadcast deal expires next year; starting in 2021.
I remember in 2009 on the Gold Coast talking with then Japanese coach and All Black legend, John Kirwan. I brought up the idea of having a Japanese based Super Rugby franchise, to which Jk said, “No-way, impossible, the company teams in Japan are way too powerful“. In Australia, we could see the merit of a Japanese team with the time-slot 1 hour behind Eastern Standard Time wedged between the Western Force matches in Perth.
“No-way, impossible, the company teams in Japan are way too powerful“.
Fast forward to 2019 and another All Black legend, current Queensland Reds coach, Brad Thorn. He’s come out strongly supporting the Sunwolves. After last Saturday’s match at Chichibu-no-Miya Stadium in Tokyo saying, “Look at that game today, look at the Sunwolves this season, they’ve been outstanding. It’s so good for rugby in Japan, look at the crowd. It would be disappointing and sad if Sunwolves were no longer part of it.”
Unfortunately, it’s official that from the Super Rugby 2021 season the Sunwolves will no longer be a part of the competition. In the words of SANZAAR CEO Andy Marino, “The decision to further consolidate the competition format to a 14-team round robin was not taken lightly. It has involved some detailed analysis and a thorough review of the current and future rugby landscape, tournament costs, commercial and broadcast considerations and player welfare in line with our Strategic Plan.”
Maybe John Kirwan was right, as sources have inferred that the JRFU never really liked the concept of the Sunwolves. This view was even voiced to SANZAAR by the JRFU as Marino reiterated, “SANZAAR was advised by the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) in early March that they would no longer be in a position to financially underwrite the Sunwolves future participation post 2020. The future of the Sunwolves will now be determined by the JRFU which has determined that Super Rugby no longer remains the best pathway for the development of players for the national team.”
There’s a lot of issues to be sorted out, with finances being a major concern, along with the disruption to the Top League season in Japan. Moving forward, it’s time to have a good chat with Andrew Forrest about becoming a part of Global Rapid Rugby.
For those heading to the Rugby World Cup this year in Japan your journey starts this Saturday on the Gold Coast. The Japan Community of Queensland Inc. cordially invite you to immerse yourself into Japanese food, culture and the people at Albert Waterways Community Centre in Broadbeach from 10am to 5pm. Proudly supported by the Japanese Consulate in Brisbane and Brisbanerugby, this is your first step of the incredible journey for the World Cup to be hosted outside of a ‘traditional‘ rugby nation.
(yon-nen ni ichi-do jyanai. Isshou-ni ichi-do da.)
The catch cry for this year’s World Cup is, “Not every 4 years. Once in a lifetime.” Basically meaning that this will be the ONLY time in your lifetime to experience such an event in Asia.
Japan has a proud history of rugby dating back to 1889, when Edward Bramwell Clarke, an instructor in English language and literature at Keio University at the time, began teaching rugby together with fellow Cambridge alumnus Ginnosuke Tanaka. Enthusiasm for rugby grew in Japan, led mainly by the university and high school students. University rugby became increasingly popular because of the top teams from Waseda, Keio,Meiji and DoshishaUniversities, peaking between the 1980s and early 1990s. From 2016 the Tokyo based Sunwolves entered the Super Rugby competition and played a very competitive match against the Queensland Reds last weekend in Tokyo, narrowly losing 34-31 in the final play.
Some Queensland Reds and Super W players will be on hand around 2pm for autographs and some rugby fun. We are very privileged to have a Japanese player from the Women’s Reds Team, Asako-chan, as well to demonstrate the pathways open to those that persevere, “Fight-o” in Japanese.