Contributed by: Aaron Richard
On August 18th the All-Japan Samurai met the Melbourne Vietnamese at Box Hill North's Elgar Park. The Samurai ran out comfortable 13.13 to 6.8 victors in a match marked by some impressive skills from a Japanese squad much improved from the side that travelled to the 2002 cup and some explosive pace from both sides.
In part one of our two-part feature on Aussie Rules development in the two nations, WFN's Aaron Richard talks with Samurai Coach Troy Beard.
Their undefeated record for the 2004 remaining intact, the Japan Samurai have raised many an eyebrow this tour. "They'd never won a game outside Japan before this year. Since starting the tour they've defeated the traditionally very strong Singapore Wombats, Howlong, Box Hill North and now Vietnam" says Troy Beard, expat Australian who is the driving force behind the Samurai's giant-killing tour results. And their competition haven't been pushovers. "There are guys playing for Vietnam who play first-grade schoolboy's footy for Melbourne High School and De La Salle. For the Samurai to have had such a convincing win is fantastic".
Footy started in Japan over a decade ago, but growth had been slow until recently - the past two years seeing a revival of the code in Osaka and rapid expansion within Tokyo. "In the last 18 months player numbers have literally doubled. We've now got over 400 men and women playing in Japan, of which the vast majority are Japanese. And the growth's continuing, we're getting heaps of inquiries from all over Japan, guys getting in contact with us saying they've got eight or ten interested players and want to know where to start. We're trying to help clubs get a structure together and ease into competition - at the moment we've got the Saitama Kumas - Bears in Japanese - ready to join the Tokyo area competition for 2005".
2004 has seen the league affiliate with the AFL as the AFL Japan, the advent of women's footy in Japan, a second men's side in Osaka (the Kansai Kangaroos), a huge increase in the amount of contact between the AFL Japan and other Asian leagues and clubs, an Irish side - the Galahs - being formed by the Japan GAA and the formation of a university league. "We approached the universities directly with the idea of the university league and the competition will kick off later this year. Part of the reason we're doing it is that players numbers for the University Samurai have been steadily growing and we'd end up with a situation where heaps of guys were missing out of a game. This way new players can get experience playing in the uni league and aspire to playing for the Samurai in the AFL Japan".
"The media response has been fantastic - particularly now we've had some good wins on the road. Our sponsors and supporters are very excited. The support from the clubs here in Australia has been great too - in Howlong the whole town came out to welcome us and packed out the local oval to watch". Certainly the Samurai are a great side to watch, lightning quick and skillful. "This is not the best squad we could have brought. This is a development squad - 11 of these guys have never represented Japan before - and we've picked a young team, all between 18 and 23 who are going to be the nucleus of our International Cup campaign in 2005. We're looking towards a very strong future".
Planning for a solid future is forefront in the league's plans. "We're aiming to have an all-Japanese national committee within five years. By the 2008 cup, it'll be an all-Japanese outfit, playing squad, coaching staff, everyone". If this tour is anything to go by, the future is bright indeed.
World Footy News