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New docuseries provides fascinating insight into Japanese university rugby

By Jon Newcombe
Japan U thumbs Trailer

Ever since the Brave Blossoms beat the Springboks at Rugby World Cup 2015 and backed it up by performing brilliantly as hosts of the next tournament in 2019, the popularity of rugby in Japan has been soaring. But one area of Japanese life where rugby has traditionally had a strong foothold, dating way back, is in the universities and, at present, none are stronger than Teikyo University.

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Home to around 21,000 undergraduates, Teikyo University are the current holders of the All-Japan University Rugby Championships trophy, having won 12 titles, the most recent coming in January after a 34-15 win over Meiji in the final.

Until now, the outside world did not know much about the inner workings of this rich pathway to Test rugby but Japan U, a wonderful new five-part docuseries, that charts the progress of the reigning Japanese student champions throughout this year’s title-winning season, changes all of that.

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Japan U Official Trailer | RPTV

Japan U follows Teikyo University’s championship rugby team as they aim to become future Brave Blossoms. Watch on RugbyPass TV now

Watch now

Video Spacer

Japan U Official Trailer | RPTV

Japan U follows Teikyo University’s championship rugby team as they aim to become future Brave Blossoms. Watch on RugbyPass TV now

Watch now

Watch Japan U for free on RugbyPass TV>>

“In recent years, many universities have celebrated their 100th anniversary. I believe that university rugby has played a major role in the spread of rugby in Japan. University rugby is popular, and many universities have rugby cubs, which they strengthen,” head coach Tomokazu Soma points out.

The latest in a fascinating portfolio of docuseries available on RugbyPass TV, Japan U looks at life through the lens of the students, whether that is in the classroom or out on the rugby pitch, as they prepare to emulate the feats of many before them and graduate to become Brave Blossoms players, as well as hearing from the coaches guiding them on their intended path to the top.

Episode one pays a visit to the iconic mountain resort of Sugadaira, Japan’s original ‘rugby town’, where 40-plus rugby students are put through their paces under the watchful eye of Soma, the former Brave Blossoms prop capped 24 times by his country between 2005-08.

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A deep thinker of the game, Soma says what he experienced as a player has helped to shape him become the coach he is today.

“I had a lot of experience as player and during that time, I met many coaches. And of course, after I retired, I studied coaching, at my alma mater, Teikyo University,” he said in one of his many fascinating interviews to camera.

“After that, I had the experience of coaching in Japan’s Top League (now known as Japan League One, a competition covered live by RPTV) and I worked with many famous coaches like Robbie Deans and Jamie Joseph. Working with my old coaches has also shaped me into the coach I am.

“The thoughts of many people are mixed together, and I am able to imitate their expressions and do things for myself. I want to give back to the students and athletes, in the same way that I have been given, and I want to do as much good as I can. That’s my coaching philosophy.”

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Soma’s altruistic approach ensures both the physical and mental wellbeing of the players is paramount as they are rigorously put through their paces, training like professionals in a world-class facility that has evolved dramatically since Hosei University rugby team first used it back in 1930.

“Of course, we are aiming to be the best in Japan every season. More than that, we, the Teikyo University Rugby Club, are about our own growth. We have to face that so we can be better than yesterday, so that we can beat last year’s team,” he added.

“The purpose of this camp is to clarify the direction in which the team will move forward.”

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Teikyo University’s then team captain and former hooker, Hayate Era, is a central figure in the docuseries. He has since graduated from student rugby to play Kubota Spears Urayasu Tokyo Bay in Japan Rugby League One and is forging a reputation as one of the next-in-line Brave Blossoms players.

We watch on as Era forms bonds and friendships with his team-mates that may, one day, be translated to the Test arena. That’s his aim, anyway.

“To be a champion team is what we are looking for, even in training we are always striving to be the best in Japan,” he said at the time.

“It has been a dream of mine since I was little to join the Japanese national team and play an active role in the World Cup.

“But this year’s goal is to be captain of the Teikyo University rugby club and give back to all the people who have supported me. So my biggest goal and dream right now is definitely to win the title of number one (team) in Japan.”

As with all journeys, it is not a straightforward one but one that is definitely worth watching.

Sign up to RugbyPass TV to watch Japan U and all the other brilliant content, including our live and exclusive coverage of the test match between Japan v England on Saturday June 22.

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Tom 1 hours ago
All Blacks snatch another tight victory from England at Eden Park

First up to any of the ABs fans who accused us of “bluster” pre-series for saying it would be a competitive - I'm glad it turned out to be an excellent series to which the ABs were deserving winners and I hope next time a side tours you'll be a little more humble. I loved the heart shown by the English boys and how they managed to contain the AB attack for large parts of the series. Was very disappointed by the lack of cohesion and ambition ball in hand, we looked after the ball poorly and hardly went 2 phases without kicking it away. We're not giving ourselves enough opportunity to put phases together and build pressure. The ambition shown in the 6N against Ireland and France seems to have gone and our players look very hesitant with ball in hand, we look much better when Marcus is taking the ball flat and boys are running hard at the line. So frustrating when we're starting to build pressure in the 22 we go back to the grubber kick then find ourselves back on the half way line 10 seconds later. We've shown great success with our box kicking game but we need to leave the flipping grubber kick in the locker room. Like the Marcus Smith hail Mary miss pass that went straight to Mark Telea, we seem to have no patience. Sometimes we just need to recycle the ball and go again. Loving seeing Maro back to his best and Fin Baxter really impressed, Alex Mitchell looks to be one of the most complete 9s in world rugby, great around the base and impeccable kicking. Congrats to the ABs, far more dangerous and skillful than England. We contained you for large swathes but to shut down that amount of pace and skill for 80 mins is nigh on impossible. Managed to find a way to win and instinctively grabbed the rare opportunities which came your way. Finding ways to win in two tight test matches will I'm sure be a great experience for your younger players. Beauden needs to be in the starting 15, what a worldie.

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