Rugby in Japan


Japan collage

Rugby Friends

The Japanese Rugby Union -

Yokohama Country and Athletic Club -

World in Union Scroll - Profile

John Kirwan - World Cup winner, ambassador, former International player and current International coach
Eddie Jones - World Cup winning International Coach
George Gregan - International player (World Cup Winner and World Record Holder for International caps)

Simon Litster - International player (Hong Kong) and current record holder for oldest International at a Rugby World Cup 7s (1993 - age 37).

Simon is now president of Yokohama Country and Athletics Club, housing the oldest rugby club in Japan.

Country Blog

I love coffee. I drink it every day. Always black, and usually served up from our tinpot kettle. Most mornings we squat together, sipping our instant gold, in the ditch that had minutes before been our bed, trying to rationalise our situation and suggesting that tonight we will find a better camp. These morning minutes are priceless, not because the algae stream water improves the taste of the budget granules, but because 8 hours hard work will commence once the cups are back in our panniers. So when John Kirwan invited us to join him for coffee yesterday morning, naturally I was pretty excited about the opportunity. Part of me gasped at the thought of meeting the legendary winger and now international coach, and part of me smiled with the thought of drinking my coffee at a table… in a building.

The morning came, and with it, the kind of pre-match nerves you get before a big game. I paced around our host's house, contemplating ways in which I might ruin my priceless café opportunity. What if I dropped the coffee, spilled it or got froth embarrassingly caught in my hairy top lip? Worse still, I might front up with bravery and sip too early, scalding my mouth and allowing all manner of problems to flow. Trying not to wear a hole in the fine electric carpet that graced our host’s Japanese house, I sat down distracting myself and instead turned my thoughts to the afternoon’s activity. What was I doing that afternoon? Oh yes, meeting with Eddie Jones and George Gregan. It wasn’t calming my nerves.

Our journey is primarily an investigation into grass roots rugby, the culture, and its place in today’s rapidly changing world. That said, I reserve the right to idolise rugby legends and I’m entitled to have my heroes. Yes they are just men, but they’re much better men than me!  I didn’t need any background on JK, I’d looked into his career ever since we put Mt Fuji on our radar. You can see the stats for yourself, 35 tries (the same as Jonah Lomu) but if you are new to rugby, just as 1999 was 'the Year of the Lomu', 1987 was 'the Year of the Kirwan'. I sat and watched his career best tries online and thought to myself: “How can this man have scored more tries in one World Cup than I scored in 5 years of school rugby?”. I developed a couple of theories on this but generally speaking, he was one of the greatest players on the planet, and I was struggling to hold down a B team position in Dartford.


JK arrived promptly, and as all great legends do, made us feel completely at ease in his company. It was just like on a Saturday when all the butterflies would evaporate at the starting whistle. We were off, and the coffee was served. Brilliant ! I can’t go into more details right now, but I have never enjoyed a cup of coffee more in my life. Our hour flew by discussing all manner of issues surrounding the world, rugby and culture, but all too soon John was on a train heading out West for a national rugby camp. After a traditional Italian kiss on each cheek, Jodie rolled out of the café declaring not to wash her cheeks for a week. Glad to see there’s no change there….. So to John, we would both like to say, you are as much of a legend off the pitch as you were on it. Thanks !

With one world record breaker down we felt buoyed as we headed over to the Suntory Sungoliaths to meet two more! Eddie had helped schedule our arrival, and George had taken time out of his busy media week prior to his last ever professional rugby match this Sunday. First, I have to mention Eddie Jones, a man who has steered two teams to World Cup Finals, winning one, and taking the other to extra time.

If his plan was to demonstrate the professionalism down at the Sungoliaths, he did a rather good job. It was a reasonably simple method. He contacted us that morning to inform us that he’d cancelled training that day to give the guys a rest from an intense Saturday semifinal victory. Upon our arrival, we witnessed the guys sweating away in sessions of “recovery cardio” and dynamic gym exercises. As a slightly less professional player, I saw some humour in this situation, and I can tell you now, there isn’t an amateur team in the world that would have put in that day’s “recovery agenda” as a full training session. What a day off!

We sat with George and Eddie, two World Cup winners, side by side. Where to start? The most capped player in international history, George Gregan, has won major trophies with every single rugby team he has represented, all except that is, the Suntory Sungoliaths. As mentioned, his last game is this Sunday, and it is the Cup Final and last match of the domestic season. What a finale to a spectactular career at the highest level. It's not as if success has just landed in their laps, they've had their fair share of defeats along the way, but with an air of calm professionalism, their only focus was on their next match and for the team to be successful. I probably can't do either of these guys enough justice in such few words, but then words failed me too when Eddie handed me his own personal Barbarians coaching jacket, signed by himself and George. Armed with an array of signed gifts and presents we staggered away into the sunshine grinning so much it hurt. Back in Yokohama, whilst nursing our crampy cheeks, we laughed at our new life amongst world record breakers. Then another world record breaker entered the room carrying his home made spag bol, our host Simon Litster, the oldest Rugby World Cup 7s player EVER! Sorry Serevi, but when you played in your first 7's World Cup in 1991, Hong Kong's very own Peter Pan had been playing on the next pitch at the ripe old age of 37.

Anyone for coffee tomorrow?


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