John Kirwan

John Kirwan

Head coach, Japan national rugby team


Originally published on on October 2009


The 44-year-old former All Blacks star became Japan’s coach in 2007

What was your reaction when you heard that Japan was awarded the 2019 Rugby World Cup?
For me, it was a moment where I felt the game could truly grow from a worldwide perspective and become a global sport. My second thought is there is still a lot of work to do, and in ten years we could improve so many things… I think that it is important that the Rugby World Cup becomes the icing on the cake and not the cake, so it’s important that we are ready to do this from a strategic point of view.

What are the main strengths and weaknesses of the Japan rugby scene?
Well, I think we are going from strength to strength, I think the Japan Rugby Top League is getting better, and I think that the athletes are getting better. As far as weaknesses, I think we really haven’t re-connected with the bulk of the Japanese public and we need to do that, from an organizational and marketing perspective.

What are your thoughts about the Bledisloe Cup coming to Japan this month?
I think from now until 2019, we are going to have to host some major events like this one. And I feel the Bledisloe Cup coming here is a fantastic positive. It is really important that the Japanese people get out and also understand that this is an event—it is not just a rugby game but a rugby event. It is rugby culture, a tradition and a festival for everyone of all ages.

When you were coach of the Italian national team for three years, you became fluent in Italian, and you’re already pretty proficient in Japanese. How did you get so good with languages?
My Japanese is not as good as I would like it to be. I am pretty poor really: I can have a conversation with my friends who know me, but I am still not able to present to the team in Japanese. I am working really hard to do more studying and to get better. I just love communicating and understanding other cultures. I think the first thing that one should do in understanding another culture is to understand the language.

What’s your recipe for a perfect day in Tokyo?
For me, I just really enjoy Tokyo. I think get up and have a workout, go for a surf out on the coast, which is a real nice thing to do, then come back, watch a nice game of rugby “football,” then go out for an all-you-can-eat yakiniku dinner. That would be fantastic, close to perfect!

Bledisloe Cup
Australia vs. New Zealand. Oct 31. ¥7,000-¥70,000. National Stadium, Gaienmae. Tel: 0570-000777/03-3545-8589;