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.

Accused in strangulation case denied bail

A 21-year-old Brassall man has been denied police bail and remanded in custody to appear in the Ipswich Magistrates Court today.

A 21-year-old has been denied police bail

Toddler taken to hospital with snake bite

The red bellied black snake caught by Christian Andersen.

Young patient assessed after puncture wounds found

Teacher sent naked pics to student, flirted on Grindr

Relationship exposed when teacher went to school's pastor

Local Partners

Workplace horror: Doctors use toe to replace crushed thumb

LAWYERS put employers on notice about preventable work deaths and injuries

Accused in strangulation case denied bail

A 21-year-old Brassall man has been denied police bail and remanded in custody to appear in the Ipswich Magistrates Court today.

A 21-year-old has been denied police bail

Toddler taken to hospital with snake bite

The red bellied black snake caught by Christian Andersen.

Young patient assessed after puncture wounds found

WATCH: Police release CCTV footage of Goodna robbery

An armed robbery took place at the IGA in Goodna at 6am this morning (27-9-16).

Masked men armed with large hammer hold up store

Driver assaulted, threatened with knife before being robbed

Thieves stole wallet and laptop computer from motorist

Who says there are no killers in the river?

No Caption

Bull sharks plentiful in popular swimming locations

Woman's $400 fine for late night 'white trash' street row

court generic

Teen's job keeps her out of trouble, court hears

Four taken to hospital after crash near school

Queensland Ambulance Service on scene of an accident.  Photo Brenda Strong / The Observer

Four females injured in two vehicle crash

Classic car auction draws buyers from US, Dubai

"He wants everyone to enjoy the cars, the collection got too big'

Lady Gaga confirms Super Bowl show

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga to perform in coveted spot

Girls actors give emotional tributes to hit show

Actor Allison Williams

Actors farewell smash hit HBO show Girls after six seasons

Janet Jackson's pregnancy is 'best thing'

Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson can't wait to become a mum

Jay Z signs two-year movie and TV deal

Rapper Jay Z

Rapper Jay Z has signed a television and movie deal

Nowhere to Hyde: Matt Nable is Australia's man in demand

Matt Nable stars as Detective Gary Hyde in the TV series Hyde & Seek.

NABLE returns to the small screen amidst busy film work.

Marvel's Luke Cage S1E7: Manifest review

Mike Colter in a scene from the TV series Marvel's Luke Cage. Supplied by Netflix.

*WARNING: spoilers if you haven't seen Marvel's Luke Cage*

Beach-side real estate starts at $85k on Fraser Coast

HERVEY BAY REAL ESTATE: You can buy this townhouse in Scarness for under $300k.

Live your beach-living dream locally.

$40million hotel, shops development project for Mackay

Mt Pleasant hotel and retirement accommodation, proposed at 194-202 Malcomson St.

$40m development to take Mackay to 'the next level'

Five ways to slash household bills and save the environment

THINK GREEN: Considering the environment when building or buying your next home can save you big dollars. The Village Building Company, who is responsible for Woodlinks Village at Collingwood Park, builds homes with this front of mind.

THERE is nothing as sweet as slashing dollars from your bills.

Property 200m from ocean selling for just over $100K

BEACHCOMBER PARK: Work has started on a new $19.2 million development at Toogoom.

The estate's developer is offering huge discounts for early buyers.

UPDATE: Former rodeo champ's sale rained out, now back on

Larkhill local Ken Consiglio is having an auction of most of the things on his property.

'People kept showing up and we had to turn them away'

First stages of $25 million housing development underway

New development on Madsen Rd - The Springs.

The blocks of land are much bigger than usual