Interview with Chris Gibbes Assistant Coach of Japan
22 Sep 2007
It is 1pm Thursday 7 hours before kickoff at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff for the match between Wales and Japan. The Japanese team has just finished a training session and I am sitting with Chris Gibbes during a break in his day over a coffee at the Hilton Hotel in the center of Cardiff.
Chris is a Development Officer within the Waikato Rugby
Union in New Zealand. He was hired as a consultant for the preparation period and duration of the Rugby World Cup as the forward's coach for the Japanese national team. Head Coach is former All-Black great John Kirwan who has made big strides with rugby at the top level in Japan. Also on the team is Grant Doorey as the backs coach. The team manager is Osamu Ota. The approach to the coaching has been to provide not too much information but just what is needed to get the job done, to play to their strengths and to help reduce the disadvantage in size with some of the other national teams. The line-outs in particular have from 10 or so calls (of which maybe 2 or 3 were really used) to just 3 or 4. The emphasis is on speed to taking the ball - Jump-lift-throw and timing this. They have developed a technique that does allow them to compete as was evident in the match against Fiji where they won 96% of their line-outs with only 2 lost.
In the scrum the aim was to provide a technique to suit their size, looking to generate power from speed to develop a niche for them in the game and again negate some of the physical size difference.
To this the players themselves have been fully committed, and have show complete respect for the new coaching brought to them. Indeed their work effort has impressed the coaching staff including Gibbes "this is a work effort I had never seen before". The players diligently work as aspects of their game that needs improving via practice.
Players to watch out for are: Winger/fullback Christian Loamanu, Winger Kosuke Endo and Hooker Yuji Matsubara.
Injuries have hit the squad hard. These have been as a result of actual match play (2 versus Fiji) and through niggling training knocks over the World Cup period. The backup in particular has been disrupted. Fortunately the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) had already approved for an extra 6 players to be on standby for the tournament and these have been called upon. To me this shows the JRFU's commitment not just to the tournament but also to rugby in Japan in general.
One of the main objectives of the JRFU is to improve the level of competitive rugby back home in Japan. The aim is to not only improve player skills but also the standard of coaching. To import of foreign coaches like Kirwan, Doorey and Gibbes will help the training and development of home coaches. There may well be an emphasis on this as by producing one new qualified coach one can pass on knowledge and skills to many potential players and generate a future generation of quality Japanese rugby players.
Alright, this is a website for US College Rugby! But here lies the similarity between these two developing rugby nations - described by many in the RWC world as Second Tier nations. Rugby is not the major sport in Japan but it is an emerging one. The game still has to compete with baseball, as we Americans know Japan has provided the MLB with it's share of millionaire talent and stars. Soccer is one of the other major sports as it
is in the USA. More and more rugby players are however being sprouted from High School in Japan, probably more so than in the USA. This is where the development of coaches will have a huge benefit in order to install rugby skills at an earlier age. This is also a major objective for USA Rugby. Indeed Nigel Melville CEO of USA Ruby was in Boston just prior to the RWC to discuss this with local school, college and club coaches. Under the JRFU a Japan Schoolboys representative team toured Australia. Similar tours have been organized by USA Rugby.
There is an establish Japanese Collegiate National Rugby
league with Waseda University Kanto Gakuin University
being two top sides. Indeed both Universities have contributed to the National Team in the past. The senior game is also well developed with The Top League (Japan's Super League) getting sell out attendance and the top stars are as true a Japanese hero as Hideki Matsui! Another indication of this was the sheer numbers press and photographers from Japan here in Cardiff; they outnumbered the press from the rest of the World three times! One day in the USA this could be true as well!
I for one was a bit disappointed that Japan was unsuccessful in its bid to host the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Japan does have the facilities and the organizational skills to be a first class host - remember the Soccer World Cup there? I do!
I would like to thank Chris Gibbes for his time and also valiant effort in the Rugby World Cup 2007, all the best Chris to you and the whole Japanese National Team.
Although Japan lost 72 - 18 to Wales they did compete and have a chance to execute what they have been coached and scored one of the great World Cup tries that ran the whole length of the field. Japan kept plugging away, as you would expect from a team coached by All Black legend John Kirwan, Chris Gibbes and Grant Doorey