Coaching rugby in Japan

Coaching in Japan, without the dragonflies.

I can finally say that I am well and truly settled in, here in Japan, after 5 incredible months.

Despite advice and knowledge passed on from former Wasps colleague James Haskell who starred alongside Ma'a Nonu and Tamati Ellison for my team Ricoh Black Rams last season, nothing can quite prepare you for the culture shock of re-establishing your rugby world in a totally new environment.

Things I couldn't have anticipated include swarms of huge (and I mean swarms, and I mean huge) dragonflies invading our training sessions, and 35 degree heat interspersed with raging typhoons.

The set up here is in many aspects hugely professional in approach as Japanese coaches have meticulously studied the approaches of their Kiwi idols.

Yet there are gaps in their knowledge of true professionalism that are inevitable in a rugby landscape largely dominated by the amateur ethos of University rugby.

Indeed, University games in Japan regularly host crowds of 50,00 compared to Top League averages of less than 10,000.

In contrast to training methods based on the latest sports science research amongst Tier One rugby nations, relentlessly long sessions of over two hours are the norm at University, often 6 days a week. Graduates often emerge from the University system at 23 physically drained and can struggle to fit straight into the demands of the Top League.

Whilst we have 12 home grown professionals alongside our 6 foreign pros, the rest of the huge squad of 51 is made up of players who combine playing for Ricoh with working for the company at their Head office in Ginza. Some of these players also live at our impressive training facility.

It is fair to say that the disparity between the skills, experience and motivation of the top pros to the new recruits is vast in many cases.

Part of the challenge in this league is to find a balance and pitch our coaching at the appropriate level for the benefit of the whole group.

So far the challenges have been in equal measures testing, enlightening and frustrating but ultimately as an experience it has been hugely rewarding.

Rob Hoadley coaching in Japan.

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