‘Ed­die ranted and said he was sick of our form’

For­mer Ja­pan cap­tain Toshi­aki Hirose tells Daniel Schofield in Kobe about coach’s fear fac­tor

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For­mer Ja­pan cap­tain Toshi­aki Hirose needs no re­minder of the press con­fer­ence where he was sub­ject to Ed­die Jones’s most no­to­ri­ous tongue lash­ings. The words re­main seared on his soul. The date was June 20, 2012, and Ja­pan had just lost 40-21 to a French Bar­bar­ians side. Jones’s rage lev­els were al­ready bub­bling some­where be­tween livid and in­can­des­cent. With his arms folded and his eyes nar­row­ing into dag­gers, the head coach launched a blis­ter­ing ver­bal as­sault on his squad. “I yelled and screamed at half-time like a school­teacher, and in the sec­ond half we don’t have a go. Why?” Jones said, paus­ing just long enough to al­low the in­ter­preter to trans­late his vitriol. “The play­ers don’t want to win enough. They don’t want to change enough. So I will have to change the play­ers. I’m sick of it.”

The whole time Hirose shifted un­com­fort­ably in his seat, un­sure where to look or how to re­spond. Fi­nally, Jones fin­ished his char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion of Ja­pa­nese rugby and a ques­tion came to Hirose. He ex­haled loudly and let slip a half-em­bar­rassed smile. “I re­mem­ber Ed­die was very an­gry so I couldn’t say any­thing,” Hirose tells The Daily Tele­graph. “I don’t think I was breath­ing. I think I just sighed and Ed­die erupted.”

Erupt Jones did with all the fe­roc­ity of Mount Ve­su­vius. “It’s not funny, it’s not funny,” Jones said, in­ter­pret­ing Hirose’s re­ac­tion as a chuckle. “That’s the prob­lem with Ja­pa­nese rugby. Se­ri­ously. They’re not se­ri­ous about win­ning. If they want to win, they have got to go out and phys­i­cally smash peo­ple. We didn’t do it. I think I should prob­a­bly leave.” On Jones went for a fur­ther 10 min­utes.

Sit­ting in a cof­fee shop in Kobe, Hirose can af­ford to smile now but in a so­ci­ety where loss of face can have last­ing con­se­quences, his very pub­lic dress­ing down cut deep. “It’s a good mem­ory now,” Hirose said. “It has made me fa­mous. At that time, s---. For an hour, I felt re­ally ter­ri­ble. Then af­ter one hour, I changed my mind and thought maybe he was not say­ing it to me but be­cause he wanted to change Ja­pa­nese rugby. It was not just to me, it was to the Ja­pa­nese me­dia and to ev­ery­one. He wanted to send a mes­sage.”

The cur­rent Eng­land head coach has since con­firmed that his tar­get was less Hirose than break­ing the self-ful­fill­ing cul­ture that ac­cepted valiant de­feat. He was suc­cess­ful. Ja­pan’s re­sults picked up, lead­ing to their de­feat of South Africa at the 2015 World Cup and last Satur­day’s top­pling of Ire­land.

“It was a turn­ing point,” Hirose said. “On our 2012 tour to Europe we won against Ge­or­gia and Ro­ma­nia. The next year we beat Wales. That was when our re­sults started to im­prove. Our mind­set changed. For the pre­vi­ous 20 years we could not win at World Cups. We had a los­ing habit.”

That was far from the last time that Hirose would be on the end of Jones’s temper. His sta­tus as Jones’s first cap­tain af­forded him no pro­tec­tion, de­scrib­ing their re­la­tion­ship as around “30 per cent fight­ing”. “Some­times Ed­die shouted at me and I would think no more please, but it was a good ex­pe­ri­ence for me,” Hirose says. “The rea­son he was an­gry was to make us raise our stan­dards.”

There is a par­al­lel be­tween Jones’s ap­point­ment of Hirose as his ini­tial Ja­pan cap­tain and se­lect­ing Dy­lan Hart­ley to be his first Eng­land cap­tain. By his own ad­mis­sion, Hirose was far from the best player in the squad, but was the per­fect con­duit to raise their in­ter­nal stan­dards. “We had the same goal,” he says. “If we wanted to change the re­sults we needed to change our pro­cesses.”

Then af­ter three years, Jones told Hirose he no longer jus­ti­fied his place in the team – much like Hart­ley – and was re­placed by Michael Leitch, who was more of a lead-by-ex­am­ple cap­tain. Hirose re­mained in the squad, al­though he did not take the field in the 2015 World Cup. He and Jones are now good friends and re­cently shared drinks to­gether on a so­cial evening for Eng­land’s coaches in Kobe.

Hirose be­lieves that Ja­pan, now coached by Jamie Joseph, are still ben­e­fit­ing from the foun­da­tions that Jones laid, par­tic­u­larly with re­gards to fit­ness which was ev­i­dent when they ran Ire­land off

‘If the Ja­pa­nese play­ers and fans can all sing the an­them like Scot­land do, it will re­ally help’

the pitch in Shizuoka. There is a rea­son why some of his for­mer team-mates re­ferred to Jones as the “Devil”. Even Hirose shud­ders at the mem­o­ries of un­der­tak­ing four train­ing ses­sions in a day: “5am row­ing, cy­cling, fit­ness; 10am maybe weights; 2pm unit train­ing; 6pm team train­ing,” Hirose re­calls. “We were very shocked. But dur­ing games we felt our fit­ness much bet­ter. Be­fore Ja­pan con­ceded a lot of tries in the last 20 min­utes. Af­ter Ed­die came in, it be­came the best 20 min­utes.”

Hirose has an ac­tive role in pro­mot­ing the World Cup star­ring in a pop­u­lar rugby-based drama, No Side Man­ager, com­men­tat­ing and launch­ing an ini­tia­tive, Scrum Uni­son, which en­cour­ages Ja­pa­nese fans to sing the na­tional an­them. “I re­mem­ber when I played in Scot­land for Ja­pan, all their play­ers and all the crowd were singing the an­them very loudly,” Hirose says. “We thought that was fan­tas­tic. If the Ja­pa­nese can sing to­gether like that I think it will re­ally help the team.”

Ja­pan’s open­ing-night vic­tory against Rus­sia at­tracted 20 mil­lion tele­vi­sion view­ers. For the first time he can re­mem­ber, Hirose saw chil­dren play­ing rugby at his lo­cal park. Asked how he thinks Ja­pan is em­brac­ing the World Cup, Hirose says: “Bet­ter than I imag­ined. A lot of Ja­pa­nese peo­ple are en­joy­ing the games and at­mos­phere.”

Should Ja­pan qual­ify for the quar­ter-fi­nals, that will take the sport into a new strato­sphere. As for the even­tual win­ners, Hirose will not bet against Eng­land.

Ed­die’s fear fac­tor re­mains in place.

Frosty: Toshi­aki Hirose and Ed­die Jones ad­dress the me­dia af­ter the Bar­bar­ians de­feat in 2012 and (left) fac­ing New Zea­land

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