• Kyodo

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Panasonic Wild Knights and Japan scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka said Saturday that the Japan Rugby Football Union lacks the necessary zeal to capitalize on this year’s success at the Rugby World Cup.

The Kyoto native was given a special sports award from the city of Kyoto, which hosted a Top League doubleheader on Saturday. Upon receiving his honor, Tanaka took the mike and with it took the JRFU to task.

“We are relying on the union and it (rugby) has yet to gain popularity. Let’s make history together, all of you and all of us,” he told the crowd at Nishikyogoku Athletic Stadium.

Rugby captured the attention of Japan’s public during the World Cup, when Japan notched the greatest surprise in tournament history by defeating two-time champion South Africa and won three games. With Japan hosting the next World Cup in 2019, the question is whether the JRFU will be able to sustain the enthusiasm.

The second game in Kyoto, between powerhouse Panasonic and the Osaka-based Kintetsu Liners, drew 7,278 fans. According to officials, the total was about double the usual crowd for Top League games at the venue.

“We (players) commit our lives to this. The union lacks a sense of urgency. They think people are just going to show up,” said Tanaka, who also plays Super Rugby in New Zealand for the Highlanders.

The association’s hopes for full stadiums in the opening round of games failed to materialize. The expected sellout crowd for the season opener between Wild Knights and Suntory Sungoliath failed to materialize, and fans with free tickets were turned away from the gates.

After that game, Tanaka phoned JRFU secretary general Hiroshi Konishi, who was said to have offered an earnest apology.

“You say you are sorry, but that doesn’t bring fans,” Tanaka said Saturday. “After (Japan won) the (Women’s) World Cup, women’s soccer was on fire, but that fire died down after that. We have to keep the current interest (in rugby) going until 2019.”

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