Japanese Coach John Kirwin has won his fair share of battles both on and off the field, but he looks certain to run into plenty of resistance from established Unions around the world as he plans for the 2019 RWC in Japan.
Kirwin took over the reigns with the Japanese national team before the 2007 RWC Tournament.
Japan are a nation that has represented Asia at every Rugby World Cup since 1987 and with their 12-12 draw with Canada at the 2007 tournament broke a 16 year losing run of 13 matches. That said Japan is a world player on the international rugby scene, like it or not. With the IRB awarding the 2019 Tournament to the Asian nation, it will be interesting to see how long the rest of the world can or will want to ignore this emerging asian rugby market/region. With 2019 the best part of 9 years away and with us all getting ready for a revamped 2011 Super 15 and the introduction of the Argentineans into the Tri Nations. It makes you wonder why the Tri Nations wouldn’t be looking to embrace the profitable Japanese/Asian market into their long term planning.
Kirwin on the other hand has a vision.
Part of Kirwan’s vision sees Japan’s seven-year-old professional rugby union league, known as the ‘Top League’, reach a more competitive level. It is a league that often attracts world class players at the end of their career but has in more recent years attracted some quality players some way off hanging up their boots.
Kirwin feels very soon we will see the Top League expanded to include franchises in Hong Kong (a revenue hub for Australia and New Zealand already) and South Korea. Kirwin feels the winners of the Top League could easily slot into a structure which sees them playing the top teams from Australia and New Zealand in a Northern Hemisphere Heineken Cup-style competition.
Kirwin is also not far off the money when he suggests;
• The Japanese Union will be soon recognised as having ‘Five very powerful sponsors’.
• Japan will be one of the richest unions in the world.
• Japan will have big live crowds watching all levels of rugby.
• Japan will have comprehensive/complete television coverage.
Kirwan, also repeated his wish that Japan would be ranked in the world’s top eight, regularly beating the likes of Scotland, Ireland and Italy.
In the current economic climate with revenue streams and pools of money to pay players fast depleting, the Tri Nations administrators are going to have to make some interesting calls soon on how to pay the bills. This is while the Southern Hemisphere watch England go in exactly the other direction (or is it just catching up) with the RFU recently stating that eligibility was now reliant on playing in England. This mirrors how Wales and New Zealand have structured their selection policy in recent years. However it is a policy that is fast looking like a ‘dinosaur’ and a policy that works only if you have buckets of money (so England should be able to get away with it – but most will not). It has been a policy that without doubt has served especially the NZRFU well in recent years – but money is now tight, very tight, and it doesn’t look a million miles away before the McCaw’s and Carter type players of the future may have their wage bill picked up by some club off shore, however with them still being selected for national honours. This surely makes economic sense and will ease the financial pressures on the player’s home union and they (the players) may not be lost to the global viewers of the international game.
With next year’s RWC fast approaching it is worth remembering that 10 frontline All Blacks, and nearly 30 players in all departed New Zealand in the following 12 months after the Springboks defeated England 15-6 in the final, as wealthy clubs in France and England spent their considerable player budgets on Southern Hemisphere nations.
It is also worth remembering that the combined spending power of all 14 senior clubs in France is almost equal to the total yearly revenues of the NZRU, Australian Rugby Union and South African Rugby Union combined.
Last year five clubs – Stade Toulousain, Clermont, Stade Francais, Toulon and Racing-Metro – had budgets well over $30 million NZD for the year (over EURO €50 million).
Toulouse alone has a budget of €29.53 million EURO ($52.2 million NZD).
This tends to make Kirwin’s vision timely and may provide a playing outlet closer to home for Tri Nations players that may prove more controllable and profitable for the Tri Nation Unions in the years to come.
Kirwin’s visions are easy to dismiss but is there a nugget of an idea there somewhere, in order to secure our games future down south ?
Japan, the first Asian nation to host a World Cup, are currently ranked 13th by the International Rugby Board.Tweet