Rugby in Japan
In Japan, there are two meccas of rugby—Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium in Tokyo and Hanazono Rugby Stadium in Osaka. High school rugby players all dream of playing at Hanazono, where the National High School Rugby Tournament is held, and Chichibunomiya, which plays host to the All-Japan University Rugby Championship, is where the collegiate champion is crowned every year in a showdown between the best teams in Kanto (Eastern Japan) and Kansai (Western Japan). While Tokyo and Osaka tend to attract Japan’s best rugby players, Fukuoka, located on the southwestern end of Japan, is just as crazy for rugby as anywhere in Japan. The city is home to a large number of rugby clubs for both children and adults and has several women’s clubs as well.
Nick Cummins, “The Honey Badger,” is just one of the many top-level players from overseas to have played in Fukuoka (2014). Here’s Nick in his Coca Cola Red Sparks uniform and “fighting spirit” bandana in 2014. Up the guts & into ’em!
Fukuoka is Rugby City!
The junior clubs are particularly active, and at 26, the number of clubs registered with the local rugby association ranks right alongside Tokyo (24) and Osaka (30). In terms of the ratio of rugby players to total population, Fukuoka actually beats out Tokyo and Osaka.
Plenty of Pros
Several players who started in junior clubs in Fukuoka have made it all the way to the Japanese national team. Ayumu Goromaru, whose play in the 2015 Rugby World Cup garnered much attention, once played for the Miyake Young Ruggers. Kenki Fukuoka, a member of both the 2015 national squad and this year’s team, played for the Genkai Junior Rugby Club. And last but not least, Yutaka Nagare, another member of this year’s national team, got his start with the Rindo Young Ruggers. It is not hard to imagine that the success of these players has given many of the city’s young rugby players something to aspire to.
The pride of the city and frequent national champs: Higashi Fukuoka High School
High School Powerhouse
Fukuoka is also home to some of Japan’s strongest high school rugby teams. Higashi Fukuoka High School has advanced to the National High School Rugby Tournament 19 times, taking home the crown six times. With team membership now around 130 members, it is far and away the largest high school rugby club in Japan. Higashi Fukuoka’s rival is the 100-plus-year-old public school Fukuoka High School. In 2010, Fukuoka Prefecture was granted two spots for the 90th National High School Rugby Tournament, and both Higashi Fukuoka and Fukuoka advanced. One of the players for Fukuoka High School’s 2010 squad was current national team member Kenki Fukuoka. Other strong rugby schools include Chikushi High School and Chikushigaoka High School.
Annual International Youth Tournament
Meanwhile, the Sanix World Rugby Youth Invitational Tournament has been held every year since 2000 at the Munakata Global Arena. This international tournament, which features eight high school teams from Japan (four of which are from Kyushu) and eight high school teams from overseas, offers Japanese students the opportunity to experience playing in an international setting. A seven-a-side girl’s tournament debuted in 2014.
Competitive University Play Too
Although most of the best high school rugby players in Fukuoka end up going to universities in Kanto and Kansai, universities in Fukuoka are striving to bring their level of play up to that of their counterparts in Tokyo and Osaka. The Kyushu Collegiate Rugby League pits the likes of Fukuoka Institute of Technology, Fukuoka University and Kyushu Kyoritsu University against each other for the right to advance to the All-Japan University Rugby Championship at Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium.
Kyuden Voltex players don’t mind a little rain!
Fukuoka’s Munakata Sanix Blues put the tackle on!
Five Pro Teams
Fukuoka is also home to many company rugby teams including the Munakata Sanix Blues of the Japan Rugby Top League, the Coca-Cola Red Sparks and the Kyuden Voltex of the Top Challenge League (the second division of the Top League), and the JR Kyushu Thunders and the Fukuoka Bank Blue Groupers of the regional Top Kyushu A League.
Coca Cola Red Sparks player breaks away!
At the 2015 World Cup, Munakata Sanix Blues winger Karne Hesketh played for the Japanese team and scored the winning try against South Africa in what is considered one of the greatest upsets in Rugby World Cup history. Unfortunately, due to the concentration of rugby powerhouses in Kanto and Kansai, the highest in the standings that Munakata Sanix Blues has ever achieved was 7th place in 2009.
JR Kyushu Thunder slams the brakes on the Fukuoka Bank Blue Groupers
Fukuoka Hosts Rugby World Cup
Ahead of this year’s Rugby World Cup, three cities in Fukuoka Prefecture are hosting training camps for teams from seven countries. Fukuoka will play host to teams from Italy, the United States and Samoa, while Kasuga will welcome teams from Ireland, Canada and France and Kitakyushu will serve as the training site for Wales. Each of these cities are planning events to welcome the teams to Fukuoka which will likely afford the citizens, and especially the players in the youth leagues, a once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience rugby at the highest level. This is sure to have a profound and lasting impact on Fukuoka’s rugby community.