Kirwan: Japan must host RWC

Rugby is going to be the biggest loser if the World Cup doesn’t come to Japan in 2015, writes John Kirwan.

There are rumours floating around that the powers that be want it to go to England, because they don’t think the next tournament in New Zealand will be as commercially viable as it was in France last year. They want some financial security from the event.

I understand that logic, but I think it has to come to Japan for the good of the game.

The International Rugby Board needs to balance growth numbers-wise with growth commercially. The big thing about having the 2015 World Cup in Japan, of course, is perceived risk. Would they get a similar return than they’d get if they have it in England? My answer to that is yes. Their answer is that they probably don’t know at the moment. It’s still a bit of an unknown for them.

Everyone knows the World Cup should come here from a players’ point of view and a growth point of view. What we need to prove, though, is that it should also come here from an economic point of view and from a commercial perspective.

Put simply, it’s a no-brainer.

The world’s biggest companies are all in Japan. Toyota, for example, has its own rugby team and an annual advertising budget of US$1 billion!

All of the world’s biggest companies are going to Japan because it’s the gateway to Asia. The cynics out there need to understand that there are 127,000,000 people here in Japan.

I went through a train station today that more people go through each day than live in New Zealand.

There is no issue whatsoever with stadiums and infrastructure, because they built them all for the Soccer World Cup in Japan in 2002, so very little needs to be done in that regard.

People might think Japan is expense but Tokyo is actually cheaper for me than Europe.

In fact, I can buy a cappuccino cheaper here than I can in downtown Auckland.

Those who think Japanese rugby is facing the same problems as other rugby nations throughout the world are sadly mistaken. There has been huge growth in rugby in this country since the World Cup. We’ve had increases of 15 percent as far as television audiences and crowds are concerned, and the standard of rugby in the Top League has also improved by around the same mark.

Ultimately, we want to have the greatest domestic competition in the Asia-Pacific region. We want the Top League to be like the English Premiership or the French league in 10 years from now.

Of course, we need to stick with tradition and keep our Suntorys, NECs and Toshibas, but they will simply continue to grow as companies as rugby in this country keeps growing.

What’s going to happen in 10 years time, I believe, is that a young Dan Carter is going to be playing over here in Japan and the All Blacks will pick him out of our tournament.

We could potentially have 20 Manchester Uniteds in Japan because there are people here who are simply that passionate about the teams they support.

The Japanese have been told for 40 years that they’re not big enough, they’re not strong enough and they’re not good enough to play on the international stage. I totally disagree. They can play excellent rugby – they just need to learn how to win in pressure situations. It’s quite amazing to see some of the athletes we have here. It’s just a question of identifying them as athletes and then growing them as rugby players.

In terms of picking foreigners in the Japanese squad, we have to use the resources we have available if we are going to succeed in moving from 18th in the world to eighth.

I’m of the belief that a fair number of foreigners in the team is four or five, and then the rest of the players should be Japanese. There are no fixed laws handed down from the confederation, but that’s where I stand from an emotional point of view.

To grow rugby in the medium term – until the 2015 World Cup – I believe the IRB should look at international qualification on a case by case basis.

For example, someone plays one game for the All Blacks and then they go and live overseas for the next seven years. Should they then be allowed to play for that country, particularly if it’s one of the second tier nations?

Of course they should.

By John Kirwan, NZ Rugby News magazine
* Kirwan is the coach of Japan’s national side and a former All Blacks winger