FRB will be looking at the head coaches of the three pool B opponents in the Rugby World Cup in September; Japan, Canada, Australia and Wales.
Today we will start with Fiji’s first opponent Japan.
Japanese coach Kiwi John Kirwan is very familiar with Fijian rugby having scored one of his record 67 tries against Fiji during the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987.
Kirwan as left winger lined up against Fijian right winger Serupepeli Tuvula in Fiji’s first loss 13-74 in their second match at Lancaster Park in Christchurch on May 27 in the Koli Rakoroi skippered side.
Full monikered John James Patrick Kirwan, who was born on 16 December 1964, he had grown up into a family who had strong association with the champion Auckland Rugby Club.
He first represented New Zealand at 19 years of age and Kirwan played on the wing for New Zealand side amassing a total of 96 matches in the Blacks shirt which included 63 test matches from 1984 to 1994 and his profile is full of accolades..
He played rugby league for two seasons in the ARL (Australian Rugby League Premiership) for the Auckland Warriors before finishing his playing career with the NEC club in Japan.
In 2002, he moved to Italy to become the coach of the Italian national rugby team, and under his guidance improved; recording historic victories over Wales in 2003 and Scotland in 2004 however after a winless 2005 Six Nations campaign, he was relieved of his managerial duties on 8 April, 2005.
Kirwan was announced by the JRFU as the new Japan coach on 25 October 2006. He acted as team advisor until he took up the head coach role on January 1, 2007.
Interviewed by the Daily Yomiuri just after his appointment was announced he said: “The level of rugby has improved greatly in Japan in the last 10 years and they did well at the last World Cup. But their recent performances at national level have [not been good]. I want to find that ‘Samurai Spirit’ that all the players can identify with. And then that style of rugby can start to spread downwards throughout the country.”
On April 9, 2007 the national team was featured at their first training camp since Kirwan’s appointment in the NHK national news, a sign of the growing expectation and interest in his team.
He said in front of the camera: “We want to be the world’s fittest team,” a typically bullish pronouncement.
He added that he wanted Japan to play to its strengths which he said were speed and agility, and to play rugby that “big men don’t like.”
Kirwan speaks fluent Italian and is married to an Italian with three children.
He is a public figure in New Zealand for the awareness of mental illness, due to suffering depression. His name appears in New Zealand English where depression may be called “a case of the Kirwans”.
On 4 June 2007, he was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to mental health awareness.
He had been appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1989 for his rugby career.
His 199 first class tries is also a record for New Zealand first class rugby.
Even though Kirwan was installed only last year as the Japanese coach after being dumped by Italy, Kirwan has been championing a Japanese style of rugby uniquely their own to beat the likes of Fiji and Canada in their pool and give Australia and Wales a good go in France.
When Kirwan was posed with a question by Australian Broadcasting Commission that Japan had snuck up on Fiji and Tonga during the Pacific Nations Cup, he said Japan was developing their own style of rugby.
“Yes, I think last week was a good game for us, although we didn’t come away with the win in the end; it was a long way forward to the guys understanding how we want to play,” Kirwan said.
“I think today what we’re trying to establish is we’re trying to play a Japanese style of game, we don’t want to play like Australia or New Zealand or Fiji, we want to play a Japanese style of game.
“So that’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Japan has improved from the 41-13 thrashing Fiji gave them in the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia; coming close with a 15-30 loss at Prince Charles Park in Nadi in the Pacific Nations Cup last month.
Caption: one: Kirwan as Italian coach in the 2003 Rugby World Cup pre-match interview against New Zealand. two: Kirwan beats a Fijian to score in the 1987 Rugby World Cup at Lancaster Park.