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The Sheraton Grande Ocean Resort in Miyazaki on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu is a fantasy land for the well-heeled traveller: an opulent five-star hotel surrounded by swimming pools, hot springs and manicured lawns with sprawling views of the Pacific from every room.
Next door is a golf course designed by Tom Watson that has tree-lined fairways that would make Augusta National jealous.
For Japanese rugby players, including former NRL convert Craig Wing, the resort was anything but a fantasy land when they used it as a training base ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
“It was a prison,” Wing smiles. “I didn’t even see the golf course, let alone play a round. We only used the pool for recovery sessions. I did some tough training with Ricky Stuart when he was Roosters coach in the early 2000s, but that time under Eddie was probably the hardest – mentally and physically – I’ve ever trained. We went a month without a day off. We’d do these really big, tough days but he’d just ask us, ‘When things go bad, who will dig in and just keep going?’
The Japan coach, of course, was Eddie Jones. Wing, who played 11 matches for Japan from 2013-15, identifies comparisons between the Wallabies’ approach in 2023 and the Cherry Blossoms’ eight years ago.
For starters, reputation counts for little. Jones left veterans like Michael Hooper and Quade Cooper out of his squad for this year’s World Cup and did something similar eight years ago.
Eddie Jones likes having the last laugh on his critics.Credit: Getty
“In Japan, they have a senpai–kohai mentality,” Wing says. “That means a junior guy bides his time until the senior guy bows out. But Eddie just ripped through all that and picked young blokes over older blokes. There were some big names in Japan who weren’t picked – and it was the right decision. He was really about building the team from the ground up.”
Jones also overhauled the way Japan played, knowing that what’s worked in the past wouldn’t cut it. He led Suntory to titles playing a flat style of attack and wanted the national side to play the same way.
Three years out from the World Cup, he developed a drill called “Beat the Boks”, which had the singular focus of beating South Africa in the first pool match.
“Our whole approach was about keeping the ball in play, being fitter than everyone else, and running everyone off their feet,” Wing continues. “We worked on that drill for three years.”
Craig Wing played for Japan under Jones at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.Credit: Getty
Jones also worked intensely with the forward pack, devising a way in which his players’ lack of height could work to their advantage.
“With their lower centre of gravity, the game plan was to take it away from the set piece, and then just drop them [South Africa’s forwards] at the legs because we’re lower than them,” Wing says. “Get the ball out of the ruck and run.”
To achieve that, the players had to be fitter than they’d ever been. Days would start at 5.30am and finish just before dinner, but older players like Wing would then do physio and rehab, not returning to their hotel rooms until 8pm.
“Did you see the Roosters-Storm match last night?” Jones, a rugby league tragic, would ask Wing at breakfast.
“Mate, I’m flat out getting enough sleep!” Wing would reply.
As Wing offers now: “He was trying to break the young guys down to see what they were made of. He could be quite harsh, but I’ve always found in my career you don’t know what you’re capable of until you are broken.”
When Japan could only muster one win at the Pacific Nations Cup against their fellow tier-two nations, Jones felt the full brunt of the Japanese rugby media. Sound familiar?
“He was copping a roasting in Japan,” Wing says. “The Japanese media were into him at the Pacific Nations, but he didn’t care. It was about building into the World Cup. He really fed into it. He’d say to us, ‘It’s just us and our families versus the rest of the world.’”
Few expected Japan to make a ripple at the World Cup in England. Even when they beat Georgia in a warm-up match, pushing one of the biggest packs in international rugby off the ball, it didn’t seem likely to many that a Springboks upset was brewing.
Karne Hesketh celebrates his famous winning try in Brighton in 2015.Credit: Getty
Wing and his teammates knew better: “After that win we thought, ‘Eddie actually knows what he’s doing’. It was all part of the grand plan.”
It’s now part of rugby folklore that Japan beat South Africa 34-32 after Karne Hesketh scored in the final minute in what is widely considered the greatest upset in Rugby World Cup history.
What does all this mean for this fresh-faced Wallabies side for their World Cup opener against Georgia at Stade de France on Sunday morning (AEST)?
I’m not entirely sure but underestimate Eddie Jones, strange little mind-magician that he is, at your peril.
The day Sheedy threw it back to rock royalty
Regular readers of this column will know I have a soft spot for AFL coach Kevin Sheedy, mostly because you’ll rarely find someone with a better attitude towards life, sport and the art of long lunching. He’s also cracking fun, as GWS Giants chief executive Dave Matthews illuminated with a hilarious story about the great man on the BackChat podcast last month.
Some years ago, Matthews and Sheedy were in a suite at Etihad Stadium for Manchester City’s derby against Manchester United. Matthews advised Sheedy that Oasis lead singer — and Man City fan — Liam Gallagher would likely be in attendance.
There were two rules of engagement with the prickly rockstar: don’t ask for a photo and don’t talk to him about his brother, Noel.
Gallagher breezed into the room with a glass of champagne in hand and was, soon enough, introduced to the four-time premiership-winning coach.
Mouthy former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher has long been a fixture at his beloved Manchester City.Credit: Getty
“Are you the f—in’ manager?” Gallagher asked in his thick Mancunian accent.
“How’d you know that?” Sheedy asked.
“My security guard is from Australia. How f–ing good were you?”
“I was OK.”
“Ever play in front of 300,000 people in Brazil?”
“No, the best I ever did was 100,000 a week, for 22 weeks a year, for 27 years at the MCG … Did Oasis ever f—ing do that?”
Put that in your glass of fancy bubbles and drink it.
Hamilton hits screens again
The ABC lost one of its most respected voices last month when Craig Hamilton left the national broadcaster, but the upside is he’s focusing on his critical work in the mental health space.
A legend in Newcastle and beyond, “Hammo” has been raw and honest about his own struggles after suffering a manic episode on the platform at Broadmeadow train station on his way to Sydney for the 2000 Olympics.
He was diagnosed bipolar and, since then, has spread the gospel about mental health; through his superb book Broken Open then as a speaker around the country.
Now comes the documentary The Promise, an adaptation of his bestselling book while also doubling as a suicide prevention film.
Hamilton speaks to revered figures like TV personality Jessica Rowe, mental health advocates Joe Williams and Bailey Seamer, world champion boxer Tim Tszyu, rugby league mastercoach Wayne Bennett and legendary former Knights captain Paul Harragon.
“I’m passionate about mental illness because I’ve survived it,” Hamilton said. “Speaking about it might save someone else’s life.”
Hamilton and award-winning director Jye Currie will host Q&A screenings around the country, including the Civic Theatre in Newcastle, Ritz Cinema in Randwick, Event Cinemas in Shellharbour, Event Cinemas Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, Kotara, Mackay and Cairns, Cinema Nova in Melbourne and the Palace Cinema in Canberra.
To book, go to www.greenfrogproductions.com.
”Dylan Edwards at fullback has made 193 assists. That’s phenomenal.” – NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo singles out the Penrith star while presenting the club with the JJ Giltinan Shield for securing the minor premiership. Edwards also shot 79.9 per cent from the free-throw line and is averaging 12.2 rebounds per match … In all fairness, give Abdo a break. He was only praising the kid.
Just as a champion boxer can look old in one round, so can a champion thoroughbred in one race. And so it was for mighty Nature Strip in the Concorde Stakes at Randwick on Saturday when he finished sixth, prompting owners to retire the nine-time group 1 winner. Nature Strip, we salute thee.
Dylan Edwards celebrates during the Panthers’ big win over North Queensland, which secured a third minor premiership in four seasons.Credit: Getty
Cricket Australia is persisting with this nonsense of potentially moving the Boxing Day Test from the MCG and the New Year’s Test from the SCG — all for the sake of raking in more revenue. The NSW and Victorian governments should cough up some money to host these headline Tests, but cricket will have officially sold the farm down the river to the devil if they’re played elsewhere.
IT’S A BIG WEEKEND FOR….
Sydney’s two AFL teams, which play elimination finals at the MCG in the first weekend of the AFL play-offs. The Swans meet Carlton on Friday night and the Giants – boosted by the naming of Toby Greene as All-Australian captain – meet St Kilda on Saturday afternoon.
IT’S AN EVEN BIGGER WEEKEND FOR…
The Socceroos, who on Sunday AEST play Mexico in an international friendly before a crowd of 80,000-plus fans at AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys. Big game for Martin Boyle who missed the World Cup after tearing his ACL but is ready to show the Mexicans how we do it, baby.
Watch all the action from Rugby World Cup 2023 on the Home of Rugby, Stan Sport. Every match ad-free, live and on demand in 4K UHD from September 9.
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