vendredi 15 juillet 2011

Japan breakout year ?

Japan has always been a enigma for world rugby. Winning the Pacific Nations Cup for the first time, Japan revealed to the world all his progress two months before the World Cup.

Even if few know this, Japan is a traditional nation at rugby. British sailors bring rugby in Japan in 1874. Because of racial barriers and isolation, Japan played his first international game in 1932 against Canada. Rugby always had big numbers in the country. Japan is still ranked 6th in the world in terms of registered players ahead of Australia, Argentina, Wales and Scotland. Rugby in Japan always had a big financial support thank to company teams domination. But Japan always suffered from his isolation and inability to attract tall and strong players because of competition from judo, baseball and other martial arts. It's still a major issue. A late conversion to profesionnalism didn't help also. So Japan finally won only one game in World Cup history that was over Zimbabwe in 1991.

This could change radically at the next World Cup, thank to the development of professional Top League since 2003, thank to foreign contribution both at domestic and national level, Japan seems to be on the brink of revealing all his long-waited potential. Just two months before the World Cup, Japan beat two Pacific Island nations at full roster. Japan had already did this in 2010 but agaisnt weakened teams in 2010. This time, they beat the same kind of teams that usually elimanate Wales at the World Cup. But more than results the level of play of the Brave Blossoms is impressive, they made huge progress at rucks, defense and scrummaging. Ryan Nicholas bring world class skills to the backline. His breakline style remind me O'Driscoll's one. Japan back row radically improved in every ways. Usually made of captain Takashi Kikutani, young gun Michael Leitch, and number 8 Ryu Holani, they demonstrate toughness, resistance, endurance and, above all, fighting spirit.
One of the most impressive thing with this team is his depth. John Kirwan built this team for the World Cup, he wanted Japan to be able to play every four days, so he instated a huge competition among national team players, and no one has been saved. Even foreign-born players were affected, it lead the team to the current level of play. Even now, Shaun Webb is still in competition with Go Aruga at full-back, but he's also at fly-half with newcomer Murray Williams and historic leader James Arlidge. The same is right for Justin Ives and Luke Thompson compete by Toshizumi Kitagawa and Itoshi Ono at lock. Finally, two very different teams beat Tonga and Fiji in July.
One more impressive thing is the margin of improvement available. Against Tonga, James Arlidge mistakes lead to two zero pass try from Tonga ! In the same game, Japan missed two try opportunities with only one pass to do in front of the last defender ! Japan still lack simple try scoring skills, if they learned it, it could be terrible for their next opponent, Italy, because, above all, Japan love the ball, they keep it and keep it like Munster can do. They had an average possession of 70% at the PNC, 90% of the tries conceded by Japan came from a quick counterattack.
The chances for Japan to beat for the second time a Six Nations' team have never been so high. A win can definitely put them as a contender for the quarter-finals. Never forget what usually happened to France in his opening match at the World Cup...

vendredi 13 mai 2011

USA rugby Dream team ?

Moeakiola(Bobigny)/MacDonald(Leeds) - ? - Pittman(London Welsh)/W.Johnson(London Irish)
LaValla(Dublin University)/Smith(Saracens) - Manoa(Northampton)
Clever(Suntory)/Stanfill(Mogliano) - N.Johnson(L'Aquila) - Basauri(L'Aquila)
Shaw(Bristol)/Usasz(Nottingham) - ?
Sifa(Nottingham)/Welch(Aix) - Tuilevuka(Montpellier) - Dirkson(Ospreys) - Ngwenya(Biarritz)/Swyrin(Agen)

Here is what Eddy O'Sullivan can put on the paper for USA with overseas based players only. Impressive, isn't it ? Number of players in Top league clubs is pretty remarquable. It increases each year.
Since the 90's, USA rugby used to export big guys ready for hard battles in England or Wales, Dan Lyle, Kort Schubert, Luke Gross were one of them. Since Peter Thorburn nomination in 2006, something changed in the minds. He clearly proved that USA can play an attractive and complete rugby with fast backs, powerful centers and skillful players. 2007 RWC finished to convert the last skeptics. Than Taku Ngwenya went to Biarritz. Thas was a really ambitious move, no US backs played for a perenial Heineken Cup contender before. But after few months of adjustment, he had a huge impact in the team, in the french league and finally in all Europe. Taku waked up scouts sending them a powerful message : “Hey guys, see what can happen if you give a chance to the hungry American guys !” Scouts well heard the message and suddenly watched the 80,000+ USA players base, more than Scotland and Wales united.
USA quickly adapted thank to its great profesionnal sports experience, creating networks thru Europe, giving informations to clubs, putting promising players in front. Export of USA players is only starting, deceiving players are rare.
Next step for USA is to convince European clubs to sign key position players. As you see up, a hoocker and a fly-half are missing. But consider this, Tai Enosa name won’t wait too long to be in the headlines.

jeudi 7 avril 2011

Rugby now first show in Paris

History happened few weeks ago in Paris. When Racing Metro hosted Toulouse in front of 74,000 spectators on March 23, the Racingmen not only beat Toulouse by the biggest margin of the season, but allow Rugby to officialy became the first sport in Paris metropolitan area. With a combined attendance of 34,000, Stade Français Paris et Racing Metro surpass the average attendance of football club Paris Saint-Germain. Racing-Metro was already in Top 14 last season but didn't host any games in the Stade de France. Reading these figures, it's easy to undestand why both rugby clubs from Paris are building two new stadiums, Stade Français'one is an exclusive rugby stadium with a 20,000 seats capacity, Racing-Metro's one is a multi-purpose arena of 32,000 seats in rugby use. And both clubs want to sold out the stadium for every games !
Paris is knowing a real transition. Rugby demonstrates how to go to the stadium with his children without hearing constant insults you can hear in a football stadium, escpecially in Paris. Aware of rugby popular rising in the city and after the death of a fan nearby the stadium in hooligans fight, Paris Saint Germain decided to clean his stadium. But after several months tryng to catch women and children that went to rugby, they failed to attract a new public. The 47,000 seats Parc des Princes is half empty, attendance rate is 59%...
This figure is in constant fall since three years. Football won't never take the lead again. Football reputation has never been so low in France. Capital figures are just the reflect of a change in sport show in France. Toulouse figures was already in favor of rugby, Paris figures show how rugby growing capacity is great in France. It's just the beginning of something rugby never know before, a NFLization.

mercredi 30 mars 2011

Is Martin Heredia the next Diego Dominguez ?

Spain finally found a fly-half who came from nowhere to lead the Leones. He's born in Argentina, he improved lately and chose to play for an emerging nation. Is that remember you someone else ? Yes, you find him ? Diego Dominguez, Italian legend.

Heredia was discovered in 2010 by former Spain coach, Ged Glynn. It seems really incredible that a player like Heredia didn't attract scouts from France and England. He's a very skilled player, big man (1,84m, 90kg), versatile back. Each time he had the opportunity to start at fly-half, he was efficient. He's a productive defender, maybe the best among all the Spanish. Martin Heredia had a professional experience of several months in the inaugural SuperIberica in 2009, but, since 2010, he's playing in a regional amateur club, Costa del Sol. Martin Heredia is a regular member of the Spain Sevens national team. He played in the Hong Kong Sevens. Once again, he proved all his talent. Well, Martin Heredia really is the number 6 on the first try...

As Diego Dominguez changed the history of Italian rugby, Heredia have the power the capacity to carry Spain to another level. A level where Spain belong. Like in Italy, Spanish rugby has always been affected by French rugby. Recent matches organized by French clubs in San Sebastien and Barcelona focused the attention on rugby in Spain. In 2009, Spanish TV star commentator Michael Robinson even convinced Canal Plus to launch the first professional competition of rugby in Spain, SuperIbérica de Rugby. The 2010 edition of the 3 months competition was canceled, the 2011 edition could start in late April. This could be another opportunity for Martin Heredia to show all his abilities...

jeudi 17 février 2011

Sevens World Series = ATP World Tour

It's time for Sevens to become like tennis and launch a true World Series on a weekly basis.
It's time for Sevens to attract big crowds all around the world.
It's time for Sevens to reveal and publicize tournaments Prize Money.

Since its olympic admission, rugby sevens becomes in only several months a successful and profitable sporting show. Sevens had a huge success in most of the multiport events of the last years. Most notable one was during the Asian Games in Guangzhou in November 2010 where a total of 60,000 spectators attended to the stadium during two days to see China men's team finish fourth ! At least, China women's team finish second. In July of 2009, Sevens attract more than 70,000 in 2 days in Kaohsiung (Taiwan) for the World Games. Rising Asia seems really interested in Sevens. Thousand will come in Hong Kong in March, but also in Adelaïde, Edinburg and London in 2011. Sevens became a one-time event that must be seen when it's coming to your town. Sevens manage to become what tennis did in the 70s, a worldwide entertaining sport.

Now, the IRB shouldn't wait too much to organize a global World Series with different levels of points given. The 8-event current world series is just a small start of what it will be. In the near future, we could see a structured schedule from october to july with 2 or 3 rest periods. Based on the current sevens tournament in the world, it's easy to imagine several tiers of tournaments. A 30-tournaments World Series could contain new events in Moscow (next World Cup host), Rio (next Olympic tournament host) but also some tournaments in the US where Sevens definitely broke through this year. Tokyo, Ghangzhou, Shanghaï, Nairobi, Auckland, Sydney, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hannover, Mar del Plata, Taiwan, Madrid are some of the cities where you can bring Sevens without fear.

vendredi 21 janvier 2011

A very soon MLR ?

The IRB tried to do it for years, it seems Americans by themselves will do it in several months. The most waiting professional league of rugby in the United States is nearer and nearer. In a recent tweet exchange, USA Rugby CEO Nigel Melville answer me : "@rugbyglobal @mcuban yes, I have interest from a group of investors, its the next step for us...". You should ask you what Mark Cuban does in it. Simple, "@mcuban @NigelMelville Do you think it's time to launch a small pro league of #rugby in soccer-specific stadiums ? Is #NBC interested ?" was my original tweet. Maybe you ignore this, but Mark Cuban is a former rugby player. He already said in several interviews how he enjoyed the game, so his name frequently appears when you talk about possible investors in Pro Rugby. But Mark Cuban is not the only influent man who played rugby during his youth. That's the advantage of the game "for barbarians played by gentlemen". Two former US president, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush or Tony O'Reilly, former CEO of Heinz played rugby at different level. Money turns around US rugby since a long time, the problem was rugby unable to catch it.
What's new now ? Three words : Major League Soccer or specifically Soccer Specific Stadiums. The MLS is making its financial model by building human size cheaper stadiums. But now these stadiums are built, the question of their commercial success appears. They need events, they need to attract spectators. So what sport better matches association football pitch ? Rugby football ! Same size, same grass surface, same origin. Stadiums in Europe did the conversion every nearly week. USA Rugby quickly understand this and organized rugby events in The Home Deport Center (LA), Dick's Sporting Goods Park (Denver), Toyota Park (Chicago), Rio Tinto Stadium (Salt Lake), Colombus Crew Stadium, Red Bull Arena (NY) and soon at PPL Park (Philadelphia). All Soccer-specific stadiums but Pizza Hut Park in Dallas hosted or will host rugby events. It's now easy to understand why several MLS owners expressed interest in rugby. The most recent one is Robb Heineman, owner of Sporting Kansas City. He simply said he wants a pro rugby franchise in the new KC Soccer Stadium ! . When you see Nigel Melville tweet, you understand discussions are improving fast. When USA Rugby finally catch NBC as a rugby sevens broadcaster, the next step was broadcasting American rugby on a weekly basis, and nothing else than a professional league can allow this, so yes, the Major League Rugby is very near. And the MLS could participate because the MLR financial model will be the same as for soccer. In both sports, US National Team usually goes to the World Cup, is improving, but failed to win the trophy. Both sports massively attract a foreign-born or foreign descent population. Both sports correspond to an alternative way in sports. Both sports have a strong world wide fan base. Most of all, both sports have big financial supports.
The history of the MLS proves the 1994 FIFA World Cup wasn't the key to success. Don Garber bring success to the MLS changing the league strategy in 1999, assuming the foreign origin of soccer. Investors want to do the same with rugby and found common interests with stadium owners.