Kirwan predicts exciting times for Japanese Rugby

Japan rugby union coach John Kirwan believes these are exciting times as his Asian champions gear up to face the Classic All Blacks on Saturday ahead of their Pacific Nations Cup campaign next month.


“It’s a very exciting time for Japanese rugby,” Kirwan said. “I think in the next two years, we’ll see a huge transformation in the game in this country and the Japanese team is prepared very well.


“It’s important for us to get out and measure ourselves against the best in the world,” Kirwan, an All Black legend himself, said Thursday about Saturday’s match against the former New Zealand internationals.


“We’re 16th in the world. We want firstly to go to the 11th and then from the 11th to the eighth,” said the 43-year-old, who helped New Zealand win the inaugural 1987 World Cup as a winger.


“We don’t need to play the (full) All Blacks tomorrow,” he said.


“When we do play the All Blacks, we need to be competitive. So our goal is Tonga, Fiji and Samoa.”

 

Fiji are currently ranked ninth in the world, Samoa 12th and Tonga 13th by the International Rugby Board.

The month-long Pacific Nations Cup opens on June 7 and features Australia A, Fiji, Japan, Samoa, Tonga and the New Zealand Maoris.


The Brave Blossoms have finished up bottom of the pile in the previous two Pacific Nations tournaments, but are targetting the event as a springboard for the next rugby World Cup in 2011.


“The Classic All Blacks is a very important transition game for us,” Kirwan said, also highlighting Japan’s triumph in the inaugural Asian Five Nations earlier this month.


Kirwan said the next two years will be crucial to improve the domestic Top League and make it comparable in “five to ten years” with England’s Premiership, the Super-14 tournament of southern hemisphere teams and the French league.


Japan, who ended their World Cup losing streak at 13 with a draw against Canada in France last year and plan to bid for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, have a lot to offer to international rugby with their financial clout and fan-base, Kirwan said.


“Rugby, especially in the southern hemisphere, is struggling from the financial and crowd point of view,” he said. “I think Japan is the answer to a lot of those questions.” In their tour of Japan last year, the Classics beat the Blossoms 35-26 and 36-6.


“We need to use the strengths that we have to implement a gameplan that’s going to be difficult for the opposition to cope with,” Kirwan said, brushing aside the traditional notion that the Japanese are “not big enough and strong enough.”


Classics’ captain Justin Marshall, 34, said the match for them would be “an opportunity to see where we’re at as players on an international stage.”


“Hopefully, we’ll give a spectacle as we did last year,” said the scrumhalf from the Welsh team Ospreys.


Sapa-AFP – Rugbyweek.com

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