Breaking the mould: Rugby blossoms in Japan

Rugby is a way of life in Scotland, having played a seminal role in the development of the sport. Scotland also holds the title of winning the first ever international rugby match in 1871, against England. The rugby world has previously revolved around the powerhouse nations of the Six Nations and Rugby Championship participants, known as Tier One teams, but that is starting to change…

With the 2019 Rugby World Cup heading to Japan, the country is getting ready to show the world what they’ve got. Hot off the heels of their most impressive World Cup performance in 2015, Japan is ready to get a foothold in the sport on an international level. The Brave Blossoms, as they are known, won three of their four matches in 2015, including arguably the biggest shock in rugby history, beating South Africa 34-32. This is even more incredible when you consider that prior to the 2015 tournament they had only ever won one World Cup match, Japan clearly have a lot to be championing for coming into this tournament.

Dawning of a New Rugby Era

As hosts of the 2019 World Cup, Japan become the first Asian nation to host the tournament. In fact, they are the only nation outside of the established rugby powerhouses to host the tournament. What may come as a surprise to many is just how popular rugby is in Japan, and its long and proud history in the country. The sport goes back over 110 years and was introduced to Japanese students in 1899 at Keio University. However, it existed even before this in port towns like Yokohama and Kobe, being played by foreign residents and visiting ships’ crews, giving the locals a taste of the action.

From these humble origins the sport has grown exponentially throughout Japan. It is home to over 125,000 players, which is the fourth largest number of registered rugby players in the world, behind only England, South Africa and France. It also has over 3,600 registered rugby clubs, and is ranked 10th in the world in the current rankings. Japan is also the leading Asian rugby nation by a long way, having won 23 out of a possible 28 Asian Rugby Championships.

Strengthening Ties

In recent years, Japan has forged a strong bond with the Scottish Rugby Union (SRU), culminating in the two associations signing the Japan/Scotland Accord in 2013. This was created to develop a deeper relationship between the two countries from a rugby and commercial perspective. Shortly after, Scotland became the first ‘Tier One’ nation to invite Japan to play in a full international Test match at their home ground. Since then, both rugby unions have established exchanges in referee and coaching, and even age-grade exchanges, with school teams from Japan travelling to Scotland and vice versa.

The relationship between the two countries reached a new level in August of last year, when an agreement was made for Scotland to travel to Nagasaki for a 10 day training camp prior to the start of the World Cup in 2019. The ‘holding camp’ will allow the Scottish team to acclimatise to conditions in Japan before moving on to their official training camp for the tournament. This was the first agreement of its kind ahead of the 2019 tournament and shows the strength of the bond between the two nations. As recently as December, the SRU sent rugby balls to every school in the city of Nagasaki as a gift, and even commissioned a tartan for the city. The “Scottish Rugby Union (City of Nagasaki)” Tartan is reflective of the SRU’s own tartan, but incorporates the principal colour of the city of Nagasaki. It is believed that the local city rugby club plans to incorporate the tartan into their own kit for the upcoming season in Japan.

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Last updated 14 Feb 2017