A public high school in Nara Prefecture is cementing its position as the unlikely host of a rugby tournament in a sport dominated in Japan by private schools.

Some 30 teams from across the country attended this year’s weeklong event from July 21, hosted by Gose Industrial High School in the small southwestern city of Gose.

The participants included Tokai University Gyosei High School, which won this spring’s national high school rugby invitational tournament, as well as Osaka Toin and Kyoto Seisho high schools, both of which have become top-flight programs in recent years. All three are private schools.

The festival has also drawn the participation of locals, with Hiroyuki Takeda, coach of the Gose Industrial team, saying he wants to make it a “model of hospitality and regional revitalization” in a town that is suffering from a declining population.

Participating teams played a series of 20-minute games against each other at a municipal athletic park.

“Many other schools applied for participation but we couldn’t accept any more,” said Takeda, 55.

Taku Inoue, the team’s captain, was deeply involved in helping manage the event.

“We don’t take other teams’ participation for granted,” he said. “The point is how much we can get our thanks across to them.”

During the festival, members of the Gose Industrial team started out at 6 a.m. with a 6-km run from the school to the municipal park. They then prepared beverages and lunches prepared the fields before the other teams arrived.

Takashi Kikutani, 35, a graduate of the predecessor to Gose Industrial and captain of the Japan national rugby team at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, recalled that the high school team’s training camps were as tough as those of the current national squad coached by Eddie Jones.

The coaches of many rival teams have praised Takeda and his team for their meticulous preparations, with Daichi Yuasa of Tokai University Gyosei noting their careful attention to “every hole and corner” of the rugby field.

Gose Industrial, operated by the Nara Prefectural Government, finished second at the All Japan High School Rugby Tournament at Kintetsu Hanazono Rugby Stadium, losing to Higashi Fukuoka on Jan. 7.

While Gose, with 27,700 residents, has been hit hard by depopulation, it is encouraged by the team’s performance, and is seeking to host a training camp for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.

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