Kirwan’s brave blossoms to take on Sumo stars

Japan rugby coach John Kirwan, who has told his charges to learn from samurai, has taken them into the sumo ring to grapple with stars of the ancient Japanese combat sport.

The New Zealand rugby legend took 17 players from the front and second rows of the Brave Blossoms to a sumo stable for a 90-minute session of wrestling on Wednesday.

“There are many things that we can learn from sumo which I respect,” the 43-year-old Kirwan, who helped New Zealand win the inaugural World Cup in 1987, was quoted as telling reporters here.

“In the scrum, we can use the technique of pushing forth by tightly pressing your arms to the sides,” Kirwan said, adding that he hoped none of his charges “will give up rugby and join sumo.”


The unprecedented session was held just two days before Kirwan announces his squad for the inaugural Asian Five Nations tournament — which also includes teams from Hong Kong, South Korea, Kazakhstan and the Arabian Gulf — to be played in late April and May.

Since becoming Japan coach in October 2006, the former winger has kept vowing to create a new Japanese style of rugby, with focus on tough, low and quick tackles.

With quick-moving defence patterns, kicking up the field and timely passing into spaces, they hope to cancel out their opponents’ strengths.

Kirwan, who ended his playing career in 2001 after three seasons with Japan’s Top League side NEC, has also said he wants to find the “samurai spirit” that Japanese players can identify with.

At the Rugby World Cup in France last year, Japan lost 91-3 to Australia, 35-31 to Fiji and 72-18 to Wales before an impressive 12-12 draw with Canada, which ended their World Cup losing streak at 13 but knocked them out at the group stage.

Even lock Tomoaki Taniguchi, one of the biggest in Kirwan’s squad at 192 centimetres (6.3 feet) and 125 kilogrammes (276 pounds), found it hard to grapple and throw junior sumo wrestlers, who gave them lessons during the session.

But he scored five straight wins against his own teammate.

“Sumo wrestlers were stronger and heavier than I had imagined,” Taniguchi said. “It was a great experience.”

The stable’s master, Oomnaruto (single name), said: “I think Kirwan wanted to have his players acquire the fighting spirit which does not stop at big opponents.”

Sapa-AFP  –   

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