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October 11, 2015

Enhancing Friendship through the No Side Spirit of Rugby

JICA Sri Lanka Office
Toshiyuki SHIMANO

Global attention focused on the Japanese Rugby team Brave Blossoms when they beat Springboks in their first match in the 2015 Rugby World Cup Series in England. Just before they made their exit from the Series at the Kingsholm stadium, Asian Sevens Rugby Series final cup was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The Race Course Stadium in Colombo was the venue and it was filled with an enthusiastic audience. Both Men's and Women's Sevens National Teams of Japan were competing in this series and the Japanese residents turned up in full, waving their national flags to cheer their teams.

The women's cup final On 11th October 2015, started at 19:00hrs and ended with victory for the Sakura Sevens, Japan's women's sevens team. They beat China 33 to 12. This victory was capped by Japan's Men's Sevens Team beating Hong Kong 29 to 22, in the men's cup final. Japanese residents gathered around their national teams during the award ceremony.

The Japanese supporters were excited by the twin victories. Chiharu Nakmura, the captain of Sakura Sevens speaking to fans said "When we play games overseas, we feel lonely as we cannot expect much support. However, here in Sri Lanka, every cheering supporter's voice helped us to stay motivated to perform well. Thanks to all the supports provided by the Japanese residents in Sri Lanka, we won the Sri Lanka Sevens and won the series title. We will try our best in the Asian Cup to be held next month in Hong Kong and in Tokyo and then again when we participate in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics."

The Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) are working together in order to achieve a successful Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019. Rugby Coaches are dispatched overseas as Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers under the JICA-JRFU Scrum Project. Yu Hakuba, is one such volunteer who works as a JOCV rugby coach in Uzbekistan under this program. One of the matches that the Sakura Sevens had difficulty winning was in the first game with Uzbekistan.

In 2013, under the same program, Hakuba was in Sri Lanka to coach rugby players. As a coach of Uzbekistan Women's Sevens National Team, Hakuba was looking forward to visiting Sri Lanka again during this series. However, the trip ran into some issues and he was unable to come to Sri Lanka.

In the absence of Hakuba, staff of JICA Sri Lanka, cheered the women's Uzbekistan National Sevens Team, with cries of "Go for Hakuba," encouraging the players. Marsha, the captain of the Uzbekistan Team speaking of their experience of receiving support from foreigners said, "we did not expect to hear cheering voices in Colombo. So we were a bit astonished at first. We were even more delighted that this support came from the Japanese. It certainly spurred us to play our best in the match."

According to Hakuba, rugby in Uzbekistan has a short history and is still in the early stages of development. However, they have the potential to do well. "I find both Uzbekistan men and women players are enthusiastic and have a splendid attitude towards training. Unfortunately, the number of players as well as referees and coaches are still few and the country needs to do much work to overcome difficulties. I wish that the level of Uzbekistan Rugby improves and becomes popular in the country. Although my task here as a JOCV is to teach rugby to the national teams as a coach, I think I am here to popularize rugby in Uzbekistan," Hakuba said.

Prior to the Sri Lanka Sevens match, the Men's Japanese Sevens National Team made a visit to the Japanese School in Colombo. In line with the winning match of Brave Blossoms in England and the subsequent rise in popularity of the game, the Japanese residents have established a voluntary touch rugby team in Colombo. Children from 5 years of age enjoy playing touch rugby with adults learning the "no side" spirit as well as teamwork. JICA staff too participates in these practice games.

Ryohei Matsumoto, Volunteer Coordinator of JICA, who is fluent in Sinhalese as he served as a JOCV previously, and Taisuke Miyao, former JICA staff member currently working as an Asian Development Bank officer, have joined hands to coach kids during the weekends. Both Matsumoto and Miyao participated in the training courses for referees organized by Sri Lanka Rugby Football Union and are committed to promote rugby in Sri Lanka.

To achieve a successful Rugby World Cup in 2019 in Japan, JICA is looking for experienced persons to dispatch as JOCVs for rugby coaching under JICA-JRFU scrum project to Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka, Senegal and Lao PDR. I sincerely wish that the popularity of rugby would be raised not only in Japan but also overseas. The courageous play of Brave Blossoms inspired the rugby fans around the world. Similarly, I wish JOCV activities in rugby would also contribute to promote and inspire the spirit of the game around the world.

PhotoCelebrating the championship win of the men's sevens team with Japanese residents

PhotoCelebrating the championship win of sakura sevens with Japanese residents

PhotoJapan struggles with Hong Kong, in the Cup Final of Sri Lanka Sevens

PhotoSakura Sevens' fascinating play with China at the Sri Lanka Sevens Cup Finals

PhotoClose contest between Uzbekistan Sevens and Sakura Sevens

PhotoUzbekistan players scrabbles the attack of Sakura Sevens

PhotoUzbekistan Sevens with JICA staff

PhotoHakuba supervises Uzbekistan Women's National Team

PhotoYu Hakuba, coach of the Uzbekistan National Team dispatched as a JOCV from Japan Rugby Football Union


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