Greg Cooper suggests New Zealand should work with Japan

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  • Greg Cooper
    New Zealand rugby union footballer and coach

Mitsubishi Dynaboars coach Greg Cooper believes that a partnership between Japan and New Zealand would produce powerful results.

Cooper’s assessment is driven by the new three-division Japan Rugby League One consisting of 24-teams, which replaces the 16-team Top League, as chairman Genichi Tamatsuka looks forward to “a totally different world”.

The multi-tiered league is seemingly unlimited, with minimal financial restraints for teams and a fan base continuously growing off the back of a spectacular 2019 World Cup hosted by the Japanese.

The appeal for top players to lace up their boots in Japan continues to grow year on year, and Cooper believes this energy could prove immensely valuable to New Zealand rugby.

Don’t see Japan as a threat

“I’ve been saying for a while now that, if I was New Zealand rugby, the first national union I would be wanting to talk to would be Japan,” he told the Otago Daily Times.

“They should be starting to think about how to work the Japanese rugby season in with the Super Rugby season.

“The top New Zealand rugby players can come over here and go back to New Zealand. We’ve seen players do that. That’s the way of the world now, and the way it has to be.

“New Zealand’s economy cannot sustain where, potentially, professional rugby is going.

“To me, Japan should be our greatest friends in terms of rugby, and we should be doing everything possible to link in here.

“It’s not about seeing Japan as a threat. It’s about finding ways to work with them.”

With interest in rugby on the rise, reports have suggested that the Japan Rugby Union intends to develop a competition with Super Rugby in the coming years.

“There is phenomenal interest in rugby in Japan. And it’s only going to get bigger,” Cooper said.

“The World Cup was a phenomenal experience for Japanese rugby.

“I was used to going to a game with a crowd of 5000 or so. Maybe a final would be 10,000 or 15,000.

“We were a second division team, finally going to the top division after 12 years, and we were getting 15,000 or 20,000 people to the ground.”

The pandemic has slowed some of the momentum gained by hosting the Rugby World Cup, including delaying the start of League One. However, with the new competition getting underway at the weekend, Cooper sees Japanese rugby going from strength to strength.

“I think this is seen as the momentum builder again. I think it’s a massive moment for Japanese rugby,” he said.

“They are clearly ambitious. They’ve made the top eight at a World Cup. And the Japanese mentality is very much: OK, where do we go next?

“In the old days, they might have been satisfied with a quarterfinal. Not now. They want to make more history. One day, I think they genuinely want to win the Rugby World Cup.”

The influx of foreign players, particularly from New Zealand, has been one of the central factors for improving the standard of rugby in Japan.

“We look at players all round the world. Some of them haven’t got right to the top in New Zealand, but they have the character to come to Japan and succeed,” Cooper added.

“Think of someone like Glen Marsh. Glen was a very good player, but not an All Black. His name is huge over here. He came to Japan and was one hell of a competitor who never took a backwards step, and the Japanese loved him.

“The big thing now is if a foreign player comes to a Japanese team, he is expected to do a job. He can’t come here just because he’s seen as a name.”

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