Sport

Japenese rugby showing its strength on the world stage

George Smith of Sungoliath in action during the Japan Rugby Top League playoff final match between Suntory Sungoliath and Toshiba Brave Lupus at Prince Chichibu Stadium on January 27, 2013 in Tokyo, Japan.
George Smith of Sungoliath in action during the Japan Rugby Top League playoff final match between Suntory Sungoliath and Toshiba Brave Lupus at Prince Chichibu Stadium on January 27, 2013 in Tokyo, Japan. Getty Images

HOW times are changing.

It's hard to believe, but one of the most important markets for southern hemisphere rugby is actually located in the northern hemisphere.

Japan is the future of rugby in Asia, and an important growth engine for the game in that most important of regions.

The fact that Japan has been awarded the 2019 World Cup, and is a destination on the IRB Global Sevens Series (won last weekend by South Africa) is indicative of how important the IRB sees this country.

In addition, not only are high profile players rejuvenating their careers via Nippon, but Japanese players are making names for themselves in Super rugby.

With George Smith, Sonny Bill Williams and Hugh McMenimen doing so well in their returns from stints in the Japanese Top League, Wycliff Palu is looking for an opportunity there.

And he won't be the last.

Rugby in Japan has come a long way in a short time.

While the code has a history in Japan of more than a hundred years, it is only over the last 20 years, and, even more so in the last 10 years, that the game has become professionalised and hit the consciousness of the general public.

Traditionally, rugby in Japan has been strong in the university system and through company leagues.

Rugby programs/teams were funded and managed by and for employees of the major multi-national corporations like Sanyo (now Panasonic), Mitsubishi, Canon, NEC and Nippon Steel (my former team).

It made for a challenging relationship between teams and union, with the Japan Rugby Union owning the competition, but all the power being in the hands of the clubs.

This has seen the game under-achieve domestically and internationally.

The corporations saw their teams as marketing/PR/HR-type initiatives, with all players having to be employees of each company.

I had a work space, Japanese business card, went to office parties, but never 'worked' (although I went to the office Monday to Friday) for Shinnetetsu (Nippon Steel).

Even in this amateur competition, all foreigners were professionals.

Some of these rugby programs are better funded than Super Rugby programs, and even many national rugby programs.

Although funding is important, it is expertise and understanding of the game, team dynamics etc, that make for successful programs.

The company leagues, also meant that the coaching staff etc, had to be employees of the company, which made for some very, very, very interesting training sessions and overall programs

This amateur model has changed over the last ten years with foreigners and Japanese players, coaching and strength and conditioning staff alike, offered rugby-specific contracts.

The three regional amateur competitions have been centralised into one single professional national competition, the 14-team Japan Top League.

As we are seeing now, it is a very effective system to either rejuvenate or launch a rugby career.

Players such as Smith, Williams, Brad Thorn, and McMenimen have all benefitted from a stint in the near north.

And with Shota Horie (Melbourne Rebels) and Fumiaki Tanaka (Highlanders) making their way from Japanese rugby to the Super Rugby, there are definitely some good things going on with rugby in Japan at the moment.

For the foreign player, life and rugby in Japan is a wonderful experience.

Your program will be very well funded, your coaches and strength and conditioning experts will be from high profile national or Super Rugby programs.

You (comparatively speaking) play less games, the games are less physically demanding, you have a lot more recovery time but more training, you are very, very, well paid and get to experience the excitement of a different culture.

There are a lot of positives coming from Japanese rugby, and it's only the beginning.

Follow Slatts on twitter @pjslatts

Topics:  george smith, japan, rugby union


Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Cyclists, walkers face long magpie dive-bombing season

WATCH OUT: Magpie swooping season is here again. Photo: Scottie Simmonds/NewsMail

119 swoops already recorded this year in Queensland

Pauline Hanson: "I don't hate Asians, Muslims"

Pauline Hanson

One Nation leader carries Koran in her bag 'for reference'

Child abduction charges filed against 16-year-old

A man and woman were arrested following a police chase last night at Blacksoil.

Boy on child abduction charges after a 10-month-old went missing

Latest deals and offers

Granddaughter to face court over man's alleged murder

THE granddaughter of murdered Adelaide man Robert Whitwell will today today face court charged with his murder.

Jo-Ann Miller speech leaves ALP faithful stunned

STILL STRONG: Member for Bundamba Jo-Ann Miller MP at her Goodna office.

MP sticks to her guns at closed Labor conference

Woman, 22, has died from injuries after Underwood crash

A Police Forensic Crash Unit vehicle at the scene of a serious crash, Saturday, December 06, 2014. Photo Kevin Farmer / The Chronicle

Two-vehicle crash occurred at Kingston and Compton rds

Where the sinkhole water came from

The Basin Pocket sinkhole was drained into  gully.

The lab results are in

Court hears evidence of drug deal that led to stabbing

CRIME SCENE: Forensic police officers investigate a fatal stabbing on Cobalt St in Carole Park.

Witness tells court stabbing victim wanted drug money to pay rent

Die-hard fan's 34 magic Gympie Muster years

STICK AROUND FOR A BEER: Mal Williams has been at every Gympie Muster for 34 years.

Mal Williams has only missed one Muster in 35 years - the first one

Britney Spears calls Carpool Karaoke appearance "awkward"

Britney Spears admits her Carpool Karaoke segment was "awkward"

Mariah Carey's sister Alison arrested for prostitution

Mariah Carey's sister has been arrested on charges of prostitution.

VIDEO: What did Thor do during Captain America: Civil War?

Short explains why Thor wasn't in Civil War film.

Hilarious mockumentary features star of the film Chris Hemsworth

Meet Toowoomba's top exotic dancer

WINNERS ARE GRINNERS: Exotic dancers (from left) Alice Morgan, Celeste and Frenchie are heading to the United States after competing in Miss Vault 2017.

Dancers vie for top spot at Toowoomba's only strip club

That's a wrap: Gympie Muster celebrates 35 years in style

Caitlyn Shadbolt performs at the Muster Club on Sunday August 28 at the Gympie Muster.

Country music festival blessed with great weather and bumper crowds

Julia and Sasha top The Block's leaderboard

Julia and Sasha in their winning master en-suite in a scene from The Block.

FIRST room reveals of the season deliver mixed results.

REVEALED: Pat Rafter's $18m Coast house on the market

Check out the photos of the Coast's most expensive property for sale

The "correction we had to have" in Gladstone's rentals

UPWARD MARCH: The rental vacancy rate in Gladstone has improved for the first time in more than a year, providing a confidence boost in the market.

Vacancy rates improve with signs that things are getting betterF

ISLAND FOR SALE: Cheap Fraser Coast island drops price again

Suna Island in the Great Sandy Strait will be auctioned by Ray White Hervey Bay on Saturday morning.

This is the cheapest island you will find for sale in Australia

How a family home can fit on a 250sq m block

This is what you can build on 250m2.

Here's the floor plan of a home built on 250sq m

$100m plan for Curtis Island 'world class' luxury resort

$100 million resort: Top views at Turtle Street at Curtis Island.

"At the moment we think it meets all the town planning approvals.”

Noosa mayor on "red alert" over planning court decision

Mayor Tony Wellington hands down his first budget.

Mayor upset at lack of say about look and feel of Noosa