Asia has never really been known as a traditional rugby hotbed. While sports like soccer, cricket, basketball and baseball have all found their niche in various regions, rugby tends to stand alone in Asia as a misunderstood and severely under funded sport. Japan, however, has managed to solve most of the problems affecting many emerging rugby nations, and is setting the standard for Asia as they fight to become a legitimate international competitor.
The JRFU (Japan Rugby Football Union) has succeeded in providing its national team with adequate training grounds, top notch coaching and significant monetary support in recent years, and it is really starting to pay off.
On the verge of becoming an extremely well-known rugby nation in 2005, Japan finished second to New Zealand as the country selected to host the 2011 World Cup. With regard to Japan’s modern sports facilities and infrastructure, it seemed like an ideal place to hold such a massive tournament. It was obvious, however, that the lack of popularity relative to New Zealand clearly weighed heavy on the mind’s of voters when it came time to make a final selection. With the recent growth of the game and the addition of a high profile coach in 2007, Japan appears more than ready to host the tournament in 2019.
Their current coach, John Kirwan, is probably best known for his time as a New Zealand All Black wing in the late 80’s and early 90’s. He has previously coached at both the provincial and international level, and has helped Japan make great strides over the last few years. His dedication to developing the game at the youth, collegiate, professional and international levels has already begun to yield positive results.
The recent surge of foreign-born players taking up residence in Japan has also done wonders to improve their level of play. Their professional league (known as “Top League”) is made up of company owned teams consisting of mostly native Japanese players. Companies are also allowed to sign foreign players to their roster, but there is a limit to the number of foreigners allowed per team.
Over the last few years, various top-level players from Australia and New Zealand have managed to successfully begin or resurrect their careers by signing on to play in the Top League. Seeing as though these large Japanese corporations have a plentiful supply of money, these players have managed to pull in significant paychecks while also helping to increase the level of competition.
Look for other nations to follow Japan’s example in the near future. Korea, Kazakhstan and Hong Kong have all made serious progress towards becoming more competitive internationally, but these teams are still miles away from being able to consistently compete with Japan.
“Japan Rugby Football Union”