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Veteran Tells Of ‘Northern Iron Men’ Journey

Veteran Tells Of ‘Northern Iron Men’ Journey
Kamaishi Seawaves general manager and 2019 Rugby World Cup ambassador Yoshihiko Sakuraba. Photo: Nikkei Asian Review
February 13
11:00 2018

Rugby plays an important role in uniting the community not only in Kamaishi but the whole Iwate Prefecture, says a former Japan rugby international.
He said that is why they are looking forward to hosting the Fiji Airways Flying Fijians when they take on Uruguay in the 2019 Rugby World Cup pool match set for September 25.
Speaking to SUNsports, Kamaishi Seawaves general manager and 2019 Rugby World Cup ambassador Yoshihiko Sakuraba said they are now reaching out to children in elementary schools and kindergarten.
‘We want the children to feel and know what rugby is all about,” the 43- Test veteran pointed out.
The former Japan rugby lock forward said in leading the Seawaves rugby team they have set three objectives;

  •  To be a strong team
  •  To be the pride of the region
  •  To be loved by the people

He said they were initially called the Nippon Steel Kamaishi where they trained and recruited high school students from the Tohoku region, the north- eastern part of Japan.
The team won the Japan’s National Rugby Championship from 1979 to 1985 and they also won against top amateur and university teams from larger Japanese cities.
“This achievement was so uplifting for people not only in Kamaishi city but also in the Iwate Prefecture and the entire Tohoku region.”
Sakuraba said the team was then nicknamed the ‘Northern Iron Men’.
“They were the pride of the region. Kamaishi citizens flocked to watch their games with fishing boat flags that symbolises the port town as it was waved from the stands.”
He indicated that rugby players in return gave strength and pride to the local community and was warmly supported by the wider region.
“Such a relationship raised feelings of empathy among rugby fans across Japan. As a result, Kamaishi city has been recognised as Japan’s sacred place of rugby. Kamaishi is a fantastic rugby town for all rugby fans.”
Sakuraba said the success of the Nippon Steel Kamaishi declined in the 1990s but with the support of the people it was revived in 2002 and was called the Kamaishi Seawaves.
“Rugby kicked-off again,” he added.
Sakuraba said they are hoping in future they would be able to get in Fijian players to play for them.
“We had two overseas players with us then. They are Scott Fardy who played for the Brumbies in Super Rugby and Australia at the 2015 Rugby World Cup and today, he is playing in Leinster. The other is former All Blacks centre Pita Alatini.
“After the tsunami struck in 2011, both players refused to return to their country as they stayed back as volunteers to help their friends and locals who were badly affected.”

Edited by Osea Bola

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