Years of bitterness keep Koreans on war footing
THIRTY five years of bitterness and frustration is what keeps South Korean rugby ticking.
The Koreans, a proud race, learned their rugby from Japan when they were colonised in the early half of this century. From 1910 to 1945, Korea were under the rule and thumb of imperial Japan.
The yoke was heavy. The only good thing about those years were that the Koreans learnt a new game - not because they liked it, but mainly because it gave them the opportunity to be on equal terms with their masters.
Korean Rugby Football Union's official English interpreter, Young Il-man, takes up the story.
'In those days, it was against the law to hit a Japanese. If there was a fight, we just had to turn the other cheek. The only way we could take out our frustration was on the rugby field,' said Young.
'We played rugby mainly so that we could get back at the Japanese. It is more than rugby. It is war.' Anyone who has seen the two nations playing against each other, will at once realise that Young's words ring true. It is no mere match. Rather it is as if the two sides are really at battle.
Pride counts a lot. It is also pride that prevents the Koreans from fielding foreigners in their national team.
'We are a very insular nation when it comes to rugby. Having been under the foreign yoke, we don't like to have any foreign players in our team. Let the Japanese field foreigners, we will play our rugby with our own people,' said Young proudly.
This is perhaps one reason why the Koreans have not included New Zealand coach John Boe in their ARFT squad for Kuala Lumpur. Boe, who was hired by the Koreans earlier this year - soon after the Koreans had gone to New Zealand for a training camp - has returned home.
The Koreans have come along with their own coaches. They don't want to portray an image of having to depend on foreigners.
The Japanese are, however, not hostile to the idea of expatriates. They have three in the side - Fijian Bruce Ferguson and Tongans Sione Latu and Sinali Latu (they are not brothers).
It has been the foreign players who give Japan the cutting edge. Korea, however, prefer to depend on their own homegrown talent to carve out victory.
After all, they play rugby for totally different reasons.
But one factor motivates both teams currently. To get into next year's Rugby World Cup in South Africa.