KIRWAN TO COACH JAPAN: The Japan Rugby Football Union confirmed today that John Kirwan will be the new head coach of the Japan national team.
The 41-year-old, who won 63 caps for the All Blacks, will officially begin his job on January 1, 2007. However, he will act as team advisor to the Japanese for their forthcoming World Cup qualifiers against Hong Kong and South Korea, which are scheduled to be played in Sri Lanka on November 19 and 25 respectively.
Kirwan, a World Cup winner with New Zealand in 1987, was the only candidate to meet the five requirements laid out by the JRFU and general manager Osamu Ota.
"He has a clear vision to win at least two games at the 2007 World Cup," said Ota. "He has a long term vision to improve the Japanese team, he has agreed to live in Japan, he understands Japanese culture and customs and has previously coached an international team (Italy)."
Kirwan has plenty of experience of rugby in Japan, having played for NEC from 1997 to 1999, and has been an advisor to the Green Rockets since 2002. Upon leaving Japan in '99 he worked as assistant coach with the Auckland Blues before becoming head coach of Italy in 2002 and he led the Azzurri at the 2003 World Cup.
Kirwan replaces Jean-Pierre Elissalde, whose contract was terminated after he took on the job of general manager of French club Bayonne without consulting JRFU officials.
DID YOU KNOW?: According to Fiji Rugby Union figures, as many as 500 Fijian players are plying their trade with rugby clubs overseas.
With many of them sending their hard-earned money back to family members, it is estimated that the players' combined annual incomes total 9.24 million.
One third of those 500 players are playing professionally, including Fijian international winger Rupeni Caucaunibuca who plays for Agen, Leinster's Heineken Cup pool opponents, in France.
He has been selected in the 28-strong Pacific Islanders squad for their November 26 clash with Ireland at Lansdowne Road.
HOLMES TO MISS WALLABIES' TOUR: Australian coach John Connolly has been forced to withdraw prop Greg Holmes from his squad for next month's European tour.
The 23-year-old failed a fitness test on a neck injury and his place has gone to Brumies prop Nic Henderson. Holmes has played twice against Ireland in the last two seasons, starting at Lansdowne Road last November and again last June in Perth.
Holmes realised he would not be travelling on the four-Test tour when he tried to hit into some scrums at a training session earlier today.
He admitted: "It was quite painful and then this morning just in the mauling it was only semi-contact - it wasn't good enough to do that. I can't really pack a full-on scrum so I'd no chance of going.
"I've done a lot of hard work, I've put on five or six kilos and this injury's come up. I'm out of the tour and it's extremely disappointing."
"TIS WORSE YOU'RE IMPROVING": Retired international referee David McHugh has heard some memorable back-chat in his time as rugby's man-in-the-middle, but the Cork native reckons "Tis worse you're improving" was his favourite reply he heard to one of his decisions.
Now working as a Referee Development Officer with the IRFU, IrishRugby.ie asked the 50-year-old how he dealt with abuse from players, supporters and management - perhaps all at once - when he was whistling?
"I think there is a huge difference between supporting your team, which is perfectly acceptable, and abusing someone who is doing their best. I do agree that everybody can have a bad game, and issues re. a given decision or overall performance, may lead to differences of opinion," McHugh said.
"But the problem can be the manner in which the referee is questioned both on and off the pitch."
McHugh was famously assaulted in Durban in 2002 by South African 'fan' Pieter van Zyl - apart from that incident, was he ever confronted after making a 'bad' decision? "No, not in that manner anyway, but there will always be something after a game that will, for want of a better description, 'need clarification.''
...Ireland and Scotland line up before last season's RBS 6 Nations clash at Lansdowne Road...
UPCOMING IRISH INTERNATIONAL FIXTURES:
Saturday, November 11: Autumn international - Ireland v South Africa, Lansdowne Road, 5pm
Tuesday, November 14: Irish Colleges 'A' v Canada Under-21s, Dublin, kick-off tbc
Wednesday, November 15: Ireland 'A' v Australia 'A', Thomond Park, 7.30pm
Friday, November 17: Irish Colleges XV v Canada Under-21s, Limerick, kick-off tbc
Sunday, November 19: Autumn international - Ireland v Australia, Lansdowne Road, 4pm
Sunday, November 26: Autumn international - Ireland v Pacific Islanders, Lansdowne Road, 2.45pm