Japan keen to bring quake victims hope with string of victories

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 April, 2011, 12:00am

Hitoshi Ono watches the news whenever he can. He is looking out for stories on Fukushima and the fallout from the nuclear crisis which has engulfed his country since last month's earthquake and tsunami.

More than six weeks have passed, but the former captain of Japan is still emotional as he talks of the tragedy which has claimed nearly 28,000 lives and personally affected him.

'My parents have a small rice and dairy farm close to Fukushima and I'm worried about them.

'They are just outside the danger zone and have not moved,' said Ono, a lock forward in the 30-strong Japan squad in town for today's HSBC Asian Five Nations Top Five encounter against Hong Kong.

'I keep an eye on television for news from Japan. I'm worried, but life goes on and I'm determined to do well on the field. All of us are,' said Ono, talking of his teammates, who are all fighting for a place in the national squad for the World Cup. Ono, 32, is one of three players in the 40-strong preliminary World Cup squad - 30 of whom have been in Hong Kong since April 21 - who was directly affected by the tragedy.

Two others, prop Kensuke Hatakeyama and second-rower Shinya Makabe, saw their homes washed away. Their families are safe but they lost all their possessions.

'It has been a terrible tragedy,' coach John Kirwan said. 'The Japanese people have been very resilient and very courageous and I hope the players understand they must take these qualities on to the rugby field.'

Kirwan revealed the team would dedicate this season to the people in the beleaguered nation.

He said: 'We will play remembering the people in Japan who have suffered. This tournament and the rest of the build-up to the World Cup, as well as the World Cup itself, will be dedicated to the Japanese people.

'We will try to send out a positive message. Our boys have a big role to play. We want to help in our own way by giving the people something to be proud of.' Japan began their World Cup preparations on April 1.

It was touch-and-go whether to stick to the schedule as it came in the aftermath of the tragedy.

But the players directly affected urged Kirwan and the Japanese Rugby Football Union to carry on.

Japan captain and blindside flanker Takashi Kikutani said: 'By playing well, we can give hope to the people back home who are suffering. We want to win all our games.'

Ono will not be part of the 22-strong Japan squad on the park today. But by having made it to Hong Kong, he stands a good chance of being picked for the World Cup in New Zealand in September.

'I hope to make it to the World Cup and, if I'm successful, it will be my second time.

'And this time I will be even more determined to see that Japan do well,' said the 45-cap veteran.

The test against Hong Kong today will be Japan's first international since last November and Kirwan is hoping his squad will get out of the blocks quickly.

'We will play 10 matches before the World Cup - four tests in this competition, a further three in the Pacific Nations Cup, one-off tests against Italy and the United States and a charity game against a World All-Stars side on June 24 in Tokyo.

'It is important to start well in Hong Kong,' Kirwan said.

'There's not a day that goes by that the boys aren't thinking about home and what they can do to help,' he said.

'But now I want them to show their courage through rugby. We want to give the people of Japan hope and courage.'


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