The Rugby Paper
Japan is the Top League now, Cooper tells Sanzaar
WALLABIES maverick Quade Cooper sees Super Rugby being turned on its head in the years to come as the growth of rugby in Japan heralds a new market for the sport, even suggesting a Super Rugby team should travel to play in the Top League.
The Sunwolves, founded and bankrolled by the Japan RFU, crashed and burned in Super Rugby but the Top League, separate from the JRFU much like Premiership Rugby is from the RFU, has the capital and expansion ideas to overhaul Sanzaar’s prominence in rugby outside of Europe says Cooper.
In the throes of a playoff push to get Kintetsu Liners promoted from the second tier into the Top League, the former Reds and Rebels fly-half told the The Rugby Paper: “A lot of the time we think about pulling a team from Japan to go and compete in Super Rugby. But the competition that is very strong at the moment is
the Japanese league, so it would make more sense to invite a team from Super Rugby to join into that.
“The fanbase here is amazing. The strength of the companies is amazing. The way they have set up the league with the companies’ money has everything here going in the right direction.
“That needs to be taken into consideration and for people in charge to say ‘instead of sending one team over here, let’s try it the other way around’.
“The Top League is what Super Rugby was ten years ago: fast, exhilarating rugby. That is where Super Rugby was, it was fast and free-flowing. That slowed down a bit around the 2016-17 season, it got a lot more physical and the speed of the game slowed down.
“The speed of the game is very high here and I’ve found it to be one of the top competitions in the world to watch.”
Cooper, just turned 33 and a veteran of 70 Tests for the Wallabies, is out of contract at the end of April and has made no decision on his future as yet.
He admits to having had an insular attitude to life off the pitch during his time at Toulon in 2015-16 – an experience that has taught him to throw himself deep into Japan.
“The culture in France was great and I regret not immersing myself more when I was at Toulon as much as I have here in Japan,” he said.
“Being a bit younger I was homesick at the time. If I had my time again I would make sure I enjoyed myself a bit more off the field and immersed more in the French culture.
“Having dinner with the Japanese boys and getting to know them, outside of a team environment and not having a translator, is something I wouldn’t have done at Toulon. And golf is a massive part of life here.”
While Cooper battles to lead Kintetsu Liners into the Top League, ten years ago he helped create history for the Reds with their one and only Super Rugby title.
Back then rest and relaxation was harder to come by for Cooper under the say of old school Reds head coach Ewen McKenzie.
Travelling to Cape Town mid-way through the 2011 season to play the Stormers, a meeting of the two pre-tournament favourites, the message from McKenzie was clear: don’t enjoy yourself until after Saturday.
“I remember him saying there had never been a Reds team that had been outright No.1 and I think we were sitting joint-top with the Stormers,” Cooper said.
“It looked like we were driving to a nice hotel down near the Waterfront, the nice spot where all the bars and restaurants are, but we ended up driving towards Newlands and pulled up at this rubbish hotel and Ewen says ‘you are not to go to the waterfront all week’.
“We were there in Cape Town and wanted to enjoy it! But he took us out to Newlands to focus on the game. We had a chance to create history and he said that after the game if we win we could do whatever we wanted, ‘just don’t get arrested’.
“That ended up being one of the best trips we had even though we did not have any fun during the week, we didn’t go on any safaris or anything. We just had a great time together and executed the gameplan to a tee.
“There were expecting us to turn up and play all the football. They hadn’t scored many tries, they just kept things tight in defence, so they were expecting us to try and put on a show, but we just ended up saying no, we are going to kick the ball up the field and force them to run at us.
“That wasn’t a style of rugby they were accustomed to playing and their fans started to boo them before the game ended.
“We ended up winning the game (19-6) and it was turning point for us, and the rest was history.”