Kirwan san-sational

Alastair Himmer, Tokyo | September 30, 2007

JAPAN'S media called for the country's rugby coach John Kirwan to be given the job for life after the team's battling World Cup performances.

Japan's "Brave Blossoms" bowed out of the tournament with their pride intact after a dramatic 12-12 draw with Canada in their final Pool B game.

Under a picture of Koji Taira's stoppage-time try in Bordeaux, the Nikkan Sports daily ran the headline: "Eternal power for Kirwan!" Although trounced 91-3 by Australia and 72-18 by Wales, Kirwan's side were unlucky not to beat Fiji, losing 35-31 in a see-saw battle.

The Nikkan Sports was not alone in calling for Kirwan to be granted control through the 2011 World Cup, which will be held in his native New Zealand.

"Another four years please, Kirwan!" the Sports Nippon demanded next to a photo of Japan's players celebrating after Shotaro Onishi's conversion had sealed a draw with Canada.

"Unless Kirwan doesn't want to (stay), we're not going to let him go," Japan Rugby Football Unio executive director Noboru Mashimo was quoted as saying.

"We want him to continue laying the foundations."

Japan had lost 13 World Cup matches in a row since 1991 but were a far better organised and drilled side than the one crushed a record 145-17 by the All Blacks in the 1995 tournament.

Japan's bravery was epitomised by centre Onishi, who calmly landed the tying conversion from the sideline despite a painful rib injury.

"Somehow I was able to block out the pain and focus on the kick," he said. "I was amazingly relaxed. I tried to imagine the hearts of my teammates and Japan fans. I had to make it."

The Sankei Sports also threw its weight behind Kirwan following Japan's thrilling draw with the Canadians under the banner: "Carry on Kirwan!"

The 42-year-old is under contract with the JRFU until the end of next year, but now looks likely to be offered a lucrative extension.

Source: The Sun-Herald