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Oh dear! Oh dear! Oh dear!

OK so those weren’t the exact words screamed out from various drinking establishments and homes at 10:00 p.m on July 17, but this is a family newspaper after all.

The reason for the colorful language — JSports’ decision (apparently a one-off) to show the opening game of the Tri-Nations rugby tournament with a beginners’ guide to rugby in Japanese replacing the English language commentary.

And before anyone accuses me of simply being a whingeing foreigner, it should be noted that the vast majority of calls made to JSports to complain about the decision were from Japanese viewers.

They probably don’t quite understand everything former All Black and TV pundit Murray Mexted says — after all this is a man who has come out with such classic lines as “There’s nothing that a tight forward likes more than a loosie right up his backside” and “Everybody knows that I have been pumping Martin Leslie for a couple of seasons now.” But the English language commentary from the host broadcaster is seen by a great many Japanese rugby fans as being very much part of the big match experience.

So the question remains. Why was this ridiculous experiment undertaken?

The word from JSports is that they were simply trying to increase the fan base of the game played in heaven and that they felt a test match was the best way to advertise all that is good about the game.

Great idea but unfortunately poorly thought out.

Surely it would have been a lot better and more instructive if they had chosen a game played a few months ago and given the “teacher” (one of the company’s regular commentators) and his “student” (the obligatory pretty girl who actually asked whether the All Blacks were speaking Japanese when they started the Haka) time to prepare. The World Cup final comes to mind, purely for the drama and theater of that night in November.

Detailed explanations could have been given and the halftime segment could have featured players on the training paddock demonstrating what should and shouldn’t have been done in the “lesson.”

As it was the viewers were forced to choose between the usual Japanese commentary of how tall and how heavy a player is or the “teacher” trying to wing it as events unfurled — the likes of which are very rarely, if ever, seen on a Japanese rugby field.

Which begs the second question. Who was this experiment aimed at?

On a recent trip to Tokyo, England flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson said that he thought the one thing holding back rugby in Japan was the fact that players started playing too late. Wilkinson himself started playing at 4-years-old, and he felt the Japanese players sometimes lacked the ability to do things instinctively.

If the beginners JSports had in mind were school kids then why oh why was the experiment undertaken at 10:00 p.m?

If they were aiming at a slightly older audience then why not show a game that perhaps they could relate to i.e. a game played in Japan, rather than throwing them in at the deep end with a “live” game between the two best sides in the world.

In fact why show just one game?

Why not start off with a Japanese high school game. Progress onto a university game and a Top League game before going overseas as it were with a Super 12 or Zurich Premiership game followed by a test match?

Either way one can only imagine what the “beginners” were thinking when they were shown what rucking really is, not to mention the fight at the start of the second half that featured Brendan Cannon throwing the best punch seen on a rugby field since schoolboy Federico Mendez decked policeman Paul Ackford while playing for Argentina against England at Twickenham in 1990. It also saw the hardest head in rugby in Keven Mealamu, who somehow managed to stay standing after Cannon’s hit, and some of the most cowardly punches thrown on the field as Carlos Spencer joined in to attack Cannon as four other All Blacks held him.

One could almost hear mothers telling their boys “There’s no way you are ever going to play that game.”

Now don’t get me wrong.

JSports are a godsend to rugby buffs like me. They show over 200 games a year from all over the world and are working very hard with the Japan Rugby Football Union to promote the game in Japan.

But things could be so much better, and need to be, if the JRFU and JSports are to achieve the ultimate goal of hosting the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Following the Japan Select game against Italy on June 30 I wrote to JSports, explaining that action replays were an essential part of sports coverage. The game had been marred by some strange decisions by the referee yet JSports had not replayed one controversial moment. If someone with 30 years experience as a player was confused, what hope for those new to the sport.

The reply I received apologized (apparently a director with little knowledge of the game had been in charge as the regulars were tied up with baseball!!) and added that a team from the company was going to New Zealand to study under the experts at Sky Sports.

In putting forward a bid for the 2011 RWC, Japan is going up against among others South Africa, a country that has already won the Cup both on and off the field.

The last thing Japan needs is for it to be considered an amateur both in terms of the way the game is run and in how it is broadcast.

Let’s hope that lessons will have been learned from last Saturday’s debacle and that the administrators and broadcasters realize exactly what is at stake.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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