Rugby’s future in Asia, says Japan coach Kirwan

By Robert Smith, AFP

LYON, France — Japan coach John Kirwan says rugby’s future lies in Asia and has implored the IRB not to cut back on developing teams at future Rugby World Cups.

Kirwan’s plea came after the Wallabies hammered the Japanese with 13 tries in a record 91-3 first-up victory at the Stade Gerland here on Saturday.

It was Australia’s highest score against Japan and ranked only behind the 142-0 romp over Namibia at the 2003 World Cup and 92-10 against Spain in 2001 as their biggest match totals.

Japan now have only one victory in 17 encounters at the World Cup beating hapless Zimbabwe 52-8 in 1991. The International Rugby Board has flagged that it intends to reduce the number of teams from 20 to 16 at the next 2011 World Cup in New Zealand to cut back on the number of pool mismatches.

But the former great New Zealand winger Kirwan mounted a passionate defence of Asia developing into a future rugby power if the game’s governing organization put its resources into it.

“I still believe the future of the game is in Asia,” he said. “Some people have said that less teams is the answer, but that is wrong.

“If you came into our changing room after our match with Australia we had (Wallabies) Stirling Mortlock and Lote Tuqiri talking with our players.

“The future is in Asia, that’s where the game needs to grow. I think it is very important that if we are to change the structure of the World Cup then we don’t forget that rugby is a great game played all over the world.

“That is the responsibility of all of us to grow it around the world, and not to make it a select game, otherwise we will have world champions like (American) baseball.”

Kirwan was also critical of the IRB’s match scheduling at the French tournament.

He deliberately fielded a second-string side against the B pool favourites Australia to save his top team for Wednesday’s vital match with Fiji in Toulouse.

Asked if he had any regrets about his selection decision after Australia’s massive victory, Kirwan said: “You need to ask the IRB whether they have any regrets about giving us a draw that’s unfair.

“Maybe they should look at the profit line and add another week to the tournament. “As long as we can have more than four days’ rest in between games. I’m sure there’s a mathematical solution to this.”

Kirwan — who also fielded the same complaint at the last World Cup when he was in charge of Italy — said he was satisfied with his team’s performance in the first half against the Wallabies.

“At half-time I was very happy and the second half was disappointing but the positive thing for us is that we had some very young members out there and at this World Cup we need to have one eye on the future and another on this World Cup,” he said.

“Their captain (Stirling Mortlock) told me our line speed in the first half was hard for them to cope with and they changed their game in the second half and we didn’t cope with that.

“But if we can take the first 40 minutes and build on that, but Wednesday’s game (against Fiji) is a huge one for us.”