UQ return from Japan RWC tour with plenty of tales and a historic University partnership

By Finn Morton; Photo – Courtesy of UQ Rugby

The Wallabies weren’t the only Australian rugby team battling the Japanese humidity throughout the 2019 Rugby World Cup with the University of Queensland Rugby Football Club sending a squad of over fifty players and staff to the Land of the Rising Sun.

In their third consecutive tour of a host nation during a World Cup, the Students sent two men’s teams and a women’s side to take on the Hokkaido Barbarians in Sapporo, as well as Keio University and Toyo University in Tokyo.

A few weeks after their final game on tour, UQ officially announced an exchange partnership with their third opponents in Japan, Toyo University. The agreement will see UQ and its Japanese counterpart share resources, but also see players from both nations given an option to experience a different culture while continuing to play rugby.

This is UQ’s second partnership with an overseas University after reaching an agreement with Loughborough University during the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.

Rugby Coordinator Stuart Hubbert sees promise in the announcement, hoping that UQ Rugby Club can continue to partner with Universities around the globe.

“As far as we’re concerned, there shouldn’t be a limit to how many relationships you can create because the more relationships we have at different universities, the more opportunities that players have,” said Stuart.

“We often get people saying we’re going over the England, or we’re going to go live in Germany – it’d be great to be able to say that we’ve got this relationship with this university so you can meet up with them. It’s definitely something that we value as a club.

“That’s a big focus of it, that exchanging of IQ and actually having players come over here and experiencing Australian culture, Australian rugby and Australian coaching and vice versa.

“We’re actually in the process of putting together a three to four-week actual exchange program for the Toyo University students to come over and play some rugby and hopefully study some English.”

The Red Heavies started their tour against the Hokkaido Barbarians, staying in a small town called Jozankei near Sapporo. UQ had a successful start to their tour, against a club side who “weren’t a University side that is all under twenty-threes,” instead, Stuart reflected that their opponents were full-grown men.

The squad then flew from the northern island to the mainland where they landed in Tokyo to play both Keio and Toyo Universities.

“Ken Dobson who is an ex-Heavy coach here and he played here as well in his colts, he’s the Director of Rugby at (Hokkaido Barbarians). So we played them first out.

“We flew from there to Tokyo and we played Keio University which is in Omori in Tokyo, which was a really tough game. They trained twice a day for six days a week so they were very serious.

“Keio were very good, they just knew exactly what they were doing at every point in time. They had a few New Zealand schoolboys that they’d brought over on scholarships which is great for them.”

After three games and two and a half weeks on tour, the Students spent a few hours celebrating different cultures and rugby with their opposition from Toyo University which was topped off with an unexpected highlight.

“(Toyo) was probably one of the best experiences. They were all great but Toyo were extra accommodating and they were really hospitable towards all of us. We arrived there, we saw a big grass field and then we realised that we weren’t playing on that, we were playing on AstroTurf which was rough.

“After the game, we had an exchange of jerseys and kits, then we went up to one of their recreational areas and they put out a full meal for us and beers and we watched the Japanese team play Ireland when they won.”

Stuart said watching Japan’s historic World Cup victory with local Japanese people was one of the highlights of the tour for both himself and the squad.

“That was one of the best experiences of that whole tour was being able to be around all these Japanese people when they were all emotional about beating Ireland.

“We were all going for Japan. I don’t think we had any Irish on tour out of our group. Everyone was rooting for Japan and it was such an awesome atmosphere.”