Kirwan urges IRB not to ignore Asia

By Barnaby Chesterman
September 13, 2007

JAPAN coach John Kirwan has called on the IRB to give developing nations a chance to grow and not cut the World Cup from 20 to 16 teams.

With concerns that too many matches - such as Japan's 91-3 defeat to Australia - end in maulings, the International Rugby Board (IRB) is considering cutting the number of competing nations in the tournament.

But that could leave Asia without a representative, and speaking after his side's narrow 35-31 loss to Fiji, Kirwan believes it is vital for the future of the sport to maintain it's global nature.

"Japan was representing Asia. We won the Asian qualifiers and Asia is the future," he said. "All the big companies in the world are in China and Asia and Japan is the gateway to Asian rugby, so (Wednesday) was a moment for us to say, 'You can't leave us out'.

"We need to carry on with vision, we need to understand that sometimes you need to have some pain to grow in the global game."

Japan centre and kicker Shotaro Onishi, who kicked 16 of his side's points, concurred.

"It's very important for this country to be in the World Cup," he said. "For the development of rugby it's very important for an Asian team to participate."

Hooker Yuji Matsubara, who was one of the stars for Japan, insisted that they still need to improve to push Asian rugby forward.

"We need to be stronger otherwise the Asian level will not be stronger, so we do have a responsibility," he said.

"We are taking this as a positive note in representing Asia and we would like to do a good performance against our next two opponents."

Although unable to contain a rampant Australia last weekend, Japan proved more than capable in matching Fiji and almost snatched a last-gasp victory as it camped out in Fiji territory deep into stoppage time, only for the Pacific Islanders to repel wave after wave of attacks.

Japan's task was not helped by losing scrum-half Tomoki Yoshida to cramp and then his replacement Yuki Yatomi to a sprained ankle.

"Tomoki got cramp and couldnt run any more and Yuki went straight on but he went over on his ankle pretty badly," said Kirwan.

"It's a situation I've never been in before with Onishi and (fly-half) Bryce (Robins) sharing the half-back position. That was pretty difficult but the guys showed courage and after a few worries we got back out there and back into the game."

One thing that did please Kirwan was his team kept going right to the end. He had previously said their main problem against Australia was in only keeping up their level for 40 minutes.

"We played 80 (Wednesday), it was just the bounce of ball but that's rugby. We couldn't get a break in the last minute," said Robins.

"That's the way rugby is but the boys dug deep, we played with our hearts and did our best so it's always disappointing to come out with a loss after that."

Agence France-Presse