Tag Archives: World Rugby

Two-week Fact-Finding Mission in Japan Comes to an End.

In late October I made my way over to the Land of the Rising Sun on a sabbatical to try to really comprehend how rugby is growing in Japan and the fanfare and excitement created around #RWC2019.

My first impressions in Tokyo were that plans were well underway to host the third major global sporting tournament and a buzz was growing amongst the Japanese people. However, I was somewhat delusional inside the bubble of the rugby going public in that first week bookended by the Bledisloe 3 match in Shin-Yokohama on October 27th and the Japanese playing the All Blacks in western Tokyo the week after on November 3. The bubble I refer to was being invited to functions by rugby aficionados in Tokyo from former players of All France, members of the Japanese Rugby Magazine and rugby people at Yokohama Country & Athletic Club.

CJ with Rugby Magazine, Japan production crew

With my PA, Alisa Okawa, I attended the Third Bledisloe Match between the Australian Wallabies and the New Zealand All Blacks on Saturday, after arriving the day before, at the cavernous Nissan Stadium in Shin Yokohama. Location of the Football World Cup final in 2002 hosted by Japan and South Korea the 72,327-seat stadium attained a record attendance for an international rugby match in Japan with over 46,000 fans watching the Kiwis defeat the Aussies 37-20. An entertaining match with a strong All Blacks side making a clean sweep of the series against a novice Wallabies outfit that will befit greatly from the exposure a year out from the World Cup. In what could be heralded as a preview to the RWC2019 final, as was the case for the RWC2015 final, these two behemoths of the World Cup era in rugby holding three and two Webb Ellis trophies respectively may not end up the finalists after the annus horribilis the Wallabies have endured in 2018 winning only 3 of 12 tests.

CJ with the Webb Ellis Trophy in Yokohama

The week that followed was catching up with old rugby mates in Tokyo and discussing proposals with stakeholders that set to benefit from Japan hosting the World Cup. I even managed to pull on the boots to play a rugby match at YC&AC in Yokohama over 20 years since I had last played on that ground in the 1990s. To my surprise, there was a schoolboy/girl tournament going on there sponsored by Aussie Beef. Former Brave Blossoms representative and current Toshiba Brave Limpus stalwart, Hiroshi Ono or Kin-chan as the locals call him, was in attendance to give clout to the event that hosted teams from New Zealand and Australia. Great to see rugby being promoted in this soccer/baseball-mad country. I really hope the Japanese Rugby Football Union (JRFU) can really capitalise on the exposure rugby is getting through the RWC2019. Talking with Kyodo news rugby correspondent, Rich Freeman, after my match, he seemed somewhat pessimistic with the Japanese Top League being abandoned for the 2019-20 season. He also thought they should have lowered the ticket price for the Bledisloe Cup match to try for a sellout crowd after the rugby public had just forked out for World Cup tickets. It will be interesting to see how any benefit can come from hosting this event.

Kyodo news rugby correspondent, Rich Freeman with the big man, Naiki, and CJ

For my second week I made my way up into the mountains of central Japan to Nagano where a good friend of mine, Hide, lives in the City of Ueda. He showed me the rugby town of Sugadaira on the outskirts of Ueda where the high school rugby teams from all over Japan gather in summer to go through their paces. Driving through the town you can’t help but be overawed by everything rugby from the rugby ball monument in the centre of town to the Canterbury store, amongst other rugby brands, scattered throughout. Even the 7/11 store caters for sports supplements not common at other franchise locations in Japan. These highlands are where the Italian rugby union team will be based during the six-week tournament starting in September next year.

Heading back to Tokyo for my final weekend I felt somewhat disheartened by the fact that what I initially thought was an excitement for the RWC2019 was, in fact, more a curiosity as to what it would entail. Overshadowed by the Tokyo2020 Olympics, rugby still as a long way to go to capture the minds and souls of this unique homogeneous society reluctant to cash in on the tourism bonanza this event will bring. A chance to really open up and embrace the outside world could be missed unless something drastic is done. I will offer my services to ensure the success of this event and rugby sevens at the Olympics because there is a true bond of camaraderie born from rugby players and their fans.

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Queensland Country Looking Good for Another NRC Premiership

On Sunday, fans braved the second half rain at Bond University to watch the National Rugby Championship semi-final between last year’s premiers Queensland Country and the Western Force. The star-studded Country outfit did not fail to impress from the getgo with tries aplenty in the first 20 minutes. None more so than 2018 Reds bolter, 18-year-old Jordan Petaia. Some very impressive running from the young Wallabies squad member playing at outside-centre with two tries in 15 minutes under the watchful eye of Reds coach Brad Thorn, who was standing beside me. From our vantage point, Caleb Timu also ran in for a five-pointer, on the blindside, with the Western Force down to 13 men.

Jordan Petaia Country
Young gun, 18-year-old, Jordan Petaia running strongly in the NRC semi-final. Photo courtesy of Getty

Hamish Stewart did not bring his kicking boots which proved costly in the first half as Qld Country went to the sheds up only 20-14, after Western Force kicker, Ian Prior, converted their first two tries. Stewart did make-up for his earlier failures with the boot in the second half with two conversions and two penalty goals, but leaving points out there was scrutinised by Reds coach Thorn.

CJ & Brad Thorn
CJ with Brad Thorn enjoying the early tries by Queensland Country at Bond University. Photo CJ on Instagram @brisbanerugbycom

In the 53rd minute, referee Damon Murphy called the match off due to the lightning in the area, but after about 15 minutes the play was back on. A few spectators left at this juncture, however, there were plenty that stayed, eager to watch more from the impressive Queensland Country outfit. The final score was 45-24 to the home side, booking them a place in next weeks final in Suva against Fiji Drua.

Queensland Country coach, Rod Seib, said, “I’m really pleased with the team’s performance today. The team delivered.”

Some real standout performances by Caleb Timu and Angus Scott-Young that should see them get a future call-up to the Wallabies.

Centre of attack

Tim Horan & Jeff Wilson
Tim Horan on the attack against the All Blacks’ Jeff Wilson

By Chris Rea

(First published on 15th October 1999)

 
The last Rugby World Cup of the century began with much fanfare at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff two weeks ago. The top seeds won their pool games quite easily through the second week provided some interesting results.

The first real match-ups of rugby heavyweights took place last weekend with New Zealand verse England and Australia v Ireland.

In the former game, England realised it had to play 15-man rugby to repeat their finals appearance of 1991, but the superiority of the All Blacks came to the fore in Jonah Lomu. As in the 1995 tournament, the 58th minute proved Lomu was back with a trademark 60 metre run through the English backs to break the 16-16 deadlock.

New Zealand scored a further try by in-form halfback replacement Byron Kelleher and took the match 30-16.

In the latter match, the passionate Irish couldn’t back up their rough play with any try-scoring opportunities and the Wallabies went away with two tries to win a scrappy contest 23-3.

Instrumental in the win was mid-field saviour Tim Horan. As he was in the successful 1991 campaign three-Cup veteran Horan is the centre of attack.

I caught up with Tim Horan before he and the team left Australia a few weeks ago on a typical early spring day in Brisbane.

In contrast to the light rain that fell at Lansdowne Road before Sunday’s match, blue sky with the sun shining brightly greeted me as I parked out the front of Tim’s Queenslander house. His daughter directed me to ‘the office’ where the interview was conducted.

It had been about 10 years since we played in the Colts (under 19) “Dream Team” that won the 1988 Grand Final convincingly and just like then he can still carve through backlines as he proved with vintage aplomb on Sunday against the Irish.

Webb Ellis TrophyThe Aussie campaign to “Bring back Bill”, the affectionate name they have given the William Webb Ellis trophy, is underway and November 6, just three weeks off, is looming as a very significant day for a young nation entering the new millennium.

For also on that day a referendum will be carried out in Australia to decide whether to become a republic or hold onto a dying monarchy. The players have already voted and Captain John Eales had one regret that they won’t be playing England on that day.

“It would have been good to play England in the final,” he said. “We could stuff them on the field – and stuff them in the vote.”

I asked Tim his opinion as to Australia winning the 1999 World Cup. He said, “We have a fairly good chance, but Ireland won’t be easy.”

“At the moment we are concentrating mainly on Wales in the quarters”.

He didn’t seem too concerned about Larkham’s injury noting that it was not as bad as the thumb injury he sustained in a Super 12 match where he had to go off at halftime.

His lack of concern proved justified as Larkham had a solid return to test match level rugby last Sunday and again yesterday against the Americans.

At the moment we are concentrating on Wales in the quarters’

Tim Horan

Australia’s chances of regaining the Webb Ellis trophy are looking pretty good. As Bob Dwyer stated in his 1992 autobiography that the best two prepared teams contested the final in 1991 and should that be the case this time the Wallabies (and the Kiwis) are starting to come good at the right time.

An emphatic win over the Kiwis at Stadium Australia, 34-9, in front of 107,000+ people was a psychological shot in the arm after some lacklustre games preceding it.

“The atmosphere was ecstatic…great for Australian rugby”, Tim said. “Crowd support like that is something we don’t often get in Australia.”

“In New Zealand and South Africa you come to expect to play 16 (including the crowd) but at Stadium Australia it was excellent.”

This game provided the springboard for Australia’s assault at retaining rugby’s Holy Grail, the Webb Ellis trophy.

In a year that has seen our cricketers, hockey and netball players win their respective world championships it would be another piece of silverware on the mantelpiece of a proud young nation.

Australia’s first match of the tournament was against Romania in Belfast. Once again Tim Horan proved too good for the weak defence and scored in less time then it takes to pour a pint of Guinness (119 seconds).

For his effort, sponsors Guinness will donate £10,000 to the charity of his choice (this probably should go to the under-financed Romanian rugby team).

The tournament run by the Five Nations has had its detractors noting the lop-sided results. But as Sydney Morning Herald writer Peter FitzSimons says, “Wouldn’t rugby league love the chance to show it had a similar array of cultures, backgrounds and socio-economic firepower united through a common passion?”

IMG_0268
CJ & Peter FitzSimons

When Australia hosts the next rugby World Cup in 2003 these same arguments will be brought out along with the problems of where each game will be held.

As rugby has become professional the bottom line has been to make as much return from the game as is put in and that means bums on seats.

At the present World Cup, we have seen good numbers at games in England, France and Wales but poor ones for matches in Scotland.

The Scottish Rugby Union is responsible for this balls-up due to their traditional opposition to any innovations or improvements of the game and their initial rejection of having a World Cup when first raised by the IRB.

I remember asking a Scottish friend about tickets for the World Cup early this year and he told me that even the clubs are finding it hard to obtain any – what a travesty that has proven

Fast forward to 2003 where the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) is calling the shots, will the spectators be looked after then?

Will Queensland, a strong backyard for Wallaby talent, be overlooked for the choice matches by Melbourne; or even Perth?

ARU head, John O’Neill has decided not to give Brisbane a Bledisloe Cup match next year opting for Melbourne where rugby is hardly played because they can guarantee numbers through the turnstiles.

However, when I asked Tim about the lack of major test matches in Brisbane he cited that only 34,000 people came to Suncorp Stadium for the Tri-nations match against South Africa in July.

With the present debates over a super-stadium in Brisbane in the professional age of rugby, Queensland may be left out on a limb.

The debacle when Queensland topped the Super 12 and was given a home semi-final over whether to play at Ballymore or Suncorp Stadium meant that those schoolboys who supported the Reds all season weren’t allowed to use their schoolboy passes.

Subsequently, many locals boycotted and a proportionally larger Kiwi contingent turned up to see Canterbury outplay an uninterested Queensland side.

A further point I raised with Tim was that of the end of season Rico Challenge played between Queensland, New South Wales and ACT.

He supported the concept saying it is a good way for fringe players to get a Super 12 contract.

Although spectators to these games are low if marketed properly and positioned better in the rugby calendar, as proposed, we may see this problem overcome.

Finally, I asked Tim of his plans after the World Cup.

“Well I have another year to go on my Super 12 contract, but after that, I’d like to play in Europe”, he said.

“The pressure of Super 12 and test matches are great and I’d like to relax for a while with my family”.

No chance of following in your father’s footsteps and entering politics?

“No way!!!” he replied.

“You could give me a million bucks for a day in politics and I’d say no.

“For all the hard work my father does he doesn’t seem to get any popular response”.

The interview ended at 3pm as Tim apologized that he had to pick up one of the kids from school.

This weekend the final pool matches of the World Cup will be wrapped up with Pool D looking the closest; the clash between France and Fiji to determine the winner of Pool C being unclear; and England against Tonga no certainty.

You could give me a million bucks for a day in politics and I’d say no.”

Tim Horan

New Zealand’s hundred plus points against Italy was very impressive while Australia’s line was crossed for the first time this tournament by the USA, but went on to win 55-19.

Finishing the top of pool E Australia is guaranteed a semi-final berth, however, they will be without star running loose forward Toutai Kefu banned for 14 days for his toe-to-toe with Ireland’s enforcer Trevor Brennan.

Australian coach Rod McQueen was upset about the “selective citations”, but acknowledges the tournament has been well run.

Whichever team holds aloft the Webb Ellis trophy on November 6 rugby will be the real winner.