Children's smiles light up New Zealand visit
By Oscar Jimenez
Only a day after beating Ireland to remain unbeaten at the IRB TOSHIBA Junior World Championship 2009, New Zealand paid a visit to the Moriyama Elementary School in the Japanese city of Nagoya on Wednesday.
An integral part of any IRB Age Grade tournament is the legacy programme, which sees the participating teams visit local schools or rugby clubs to met local children and learn about the local culture as well as talking about their own countries.
The Moriyama Elementary School is an established institution with several sports programmes for boys and girls, and the principal Hiroshi Shishido welcomed the New Zealand players and management with a traditional Japanese tea table with a taste of green tea and sweet puddings.
With a captive audience of 400 children in the school gymnasium, New Zealand’s players demonstrated some aspects of the game, including how to form a scrum and make a long pass, and showed a short video of their game against Ireland.
An honoured performance
The children then got to ask some questions about the game, the country New Zealand, what they eat and why they play rugby. The most challenging question was about performing the haka and, after a short deliberation, the players said yes to the delight of the children.
“It is a difficult one because everyone wants to see the haka, but we have to respect the tradition of our haka and it is really a decision by the team whether they do it or not,” explained New Zealand team manager Grant Hubbard.
“They did it today and the children’s faces lit up and it showed the closeness between Japan and New Zealand which is very special.”
The players’ decision to perform the haka will not only have left a lasting memory for the children and teachers at the Moriyama Elementary School, but also on these young men with Hubbard in no doubt as to the importance of legacy programmes during tournaments.
“It was fantastic. Our boys were just blown away by the experience,” admitted Hubbard. “Walking into a crowded hall of 400 Japanese school children at Moriyama was quite special and you could see the smiles on our boys’ faces, they really enjoyed it, and the Japanese children really enjoyed it as well.
“Their smiles lit up our team and brought a great spirit.
Growing the game of rugby
“Our boys demonstrated some lineouts and passing, how a scrum was formed and it is all part of growing rugby. Some of these children, they have never seen rugby before and that is why we are down in Nagoya and that is why teams are all around Japan for the Junior World Championship.
“We are growing the game of rugby and it is a great game and if we get these young children following teams like New Zealand and even the Japanese national team, then the game will grow.”
New Zealand were not the only Pool A team to be making legacy visits on Wednesday with Ireland visiting the Oosu Elementary School, Argentina the Shirakane Elementary School and Uruguay the Minami Oshikiri Elementary School.
Ireland video analyst Vinny Hammond read a welcome message in Japanese on a visit which saw them entertained by the children with a special presentation on the Japanese culture, including typical food from the Nagoya region.
Argentina, who will meet New Zealand on Saturday with a place in the semi finals the prize, were shown a typical dance by the young students, while the Pumitas demonstrated some rugby skills including how to make a tackle and jumping in the lineout.
** Watch the climax of Pool C in Osaka live and on-demand for free on Saturday 13 June. First up will be Italy's encounter with Fiji at 13:00 local time, followed by South Africa's battle with France at 19:00 to determine who will travel to Tokyo to contest the semi finals. **
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