New Zealand captain Richie McCaw believes Japanese rugby can use Saturday’s historic Bledisloe Cup match in Tokyo as a springboard to success, but warned improvements will not happen overnight.
The All Blacks completed a season whitewash over Australia with a 32-19 win in their first meeting at National Stadium, as part of a drive to expand the sport’s reach beyond its traditional heartland.
Japan has been mooted as a possible home for two franchises in the southern hemisphere’s Super Rugby competition, and McCaw gave the plans a qualified thumbs up after Saturday’s game.
“I think as time goes on and as rugby becomes stronger throughout Asia, which I guess is the reason we’re here to try and build the game, there will definitely be opportunities down the track where maybe a Japan-based team or a Pacific Islands team could join the Super League,” he said.
“That would be quite exciting, but I guess it’s small steps at a time before that happens. But the way that people turned out today, and the way the people that play are building a real passion for rugby, who knows in the future?”
With Japan winning hosting rights for the 2019 World Cup, rugby officials are keen to raise the level of the national team and generate public interest ahead of the tournament.
McCaw believes Japan has the potential to improve, but warned local youngsters eyeing a professional career that they will get nowhere without hard work and enthusiasm.
“In New Zealand you dream of being an All Black, and that’s where it all starts,” he said. “It’s great to have ambition, but the reality is that only a small number of people play professionally.
“But the thing I always say to kids is to enjoy what they do. Sport is to be enjoyed, and that’s why I still do it. If you come through a game, you get bashed around and you didn’t enjoy it, you couldn’t carry on playing.
“I love what I do and that’s the key to interesting kids in sport, and that’s the message I always give.”
Both teams gave the Tokyo crowd an example of the passion and intensity involved in the showcase fixture, and tempers threatened to boil over with heated exchanges approaching the final whistle.
McCaw, however, believes such altercations are part and parcel of the big occasion.
“There was a bit of desperation out there from the Wallabies and we didn’t want to concede points, so I thought the rough and tumble at the end shows what it means to both teams,” he said.
“We didn’t want to let a try in at the end and there was a lot of character shown. At times we were defending our line in the first half and second half, and I guess it was a real indication of what it means to be playing in the black jersey.”
Australia head coach Robbie Deans, meanwhile, was not so impressed by aspects of the All Blacks’ performance.
“Can anyone tell me what the foul count was?” he asked after seeing his side thwarted by what he felt were deliberate spoiling tactics on the part of New Zealand.
“I know of the first six penalties four were in the red zone, and there probably should have been a couple of others where the ball was lifted out of the rucks one meter short of the line.
“That’s frustrating from our perspective, especially when you’re playing a fixture in Tokyo and you’re trying to promote the game. I don’t think it contributed well.”