McCallum sees potential in Japanese women

(IRB.COM) Monday 2 November 2009
By Zilia Papp
From Tokyo
 McCallum sees potential in Japanese women
Kelly McCallum captained Canada to fourth place at Women's Rugby World Cup 2006 on home soil

Former Canada women's captain Kelly McCallum will be an interested observer when Japan travel to Singapore for the Women's Rugby World Cup 2010 qualifier for the Asian region and come face to face with their hosts on Wednesday.

McCallum is no stranger to international rugby, the fly half having captained Canada to fourth place in the last Women's Rugby World Cup on home soil in 2006, but now has a new role as a coaching advisor to the Japanese national side in both Sevens and fifteens.

"Singapore will have home advantage in a hot climate; they are similar in size but a tough opponent," admitted McCallum. "The team's other focus is on the physically stronger Kazakhstan who they might face in their second game."

Kazakhstan would be an intriguing opponent for Japan, having been the leading force in women's rugby in Asian for a number of years and having represented the region at the 2006 World Cup and come face to face with McCallum's side at that tournament, suffering a 45-5 loss in the pool stages.

McCallum, therefore, has some ideas if Japan do face Kazakhstan on Friday for a place at Women's Rugby World Cup 2010 alongside three-time defending champions New Zealand, 2006 runners up and hosts England, bronze medallist France, Canada, USA, South Africa, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Sweden and Australia.

"Kazakhstan and Japan are very similar, they are both very good at getting the ball wide," explained McCallum. "If Japan gets well organised defensively, they will do well.

Similarities clear to see

"Kazakhstan has about four key players, and the game revolves around them, so if they can target them, it is for their advantage. This is what we did with Canada, when we played Kazakhstan at the pool stages in the 2006 World Cup."

So far, McCallum seems to have been successful in translating her international experience at the Women's Rugby World Cups in 2002 and 2006 to an effective coaching career in Japan.

"I can relate to them because my experiences are so similar to theirs," she explained. "At my first World Cup in Spain in 2002, I was overwhelmed. It was after that World Cup that I knew I had to go overseas to get better, and be able to deal with the pressure at an international stage.

"I played at Richmond Rugby Club in West London for three years, and with this experience my ability to work under pressure greatly improved. It built my confidence that I could compete with the top players in the world, because these were the players I was playing with and against. This is a similar experience to what the Japanese need.

"Japanese players are very highly skilled; they just need more confidence.

"One great role model in this respect is lock Haruka Takahashi, who came to the game in her late twenties. She is now one of the best players of Sydney University and she represented New South Wales in the last three years. She is a great boost to the team."

McCallum also played for Sydney University until captaining her country at the last Women's Rugby World Cup.

Happy memories

"It was an honour to be captain at the World Cup on home ground," enthused McCallum. "I was captain for three years leading up to the World Cup and I knew that I will retire after that event.

"The pool games were played at local clubs, and the fans and the atmosphere were amazing. We came in fourth in the tournament, just like four years before, but we almost beat England in the semis. It was very exciting and a great experience, it really helped to promote the game back home."

Following the tournament, she returned to coach Sydney University as her husband Lance Hayward was involved with the Waratahs as Academy backs coach and high performance analyst. Hayward's new appointment as analyst and backs coach at the Japanese top level corporate rugby team Ricoh Black Rams brought the family to Japan in 2008.

McCallum got quickly involved with the women's side and was soon invited by the Japanese Women's Rugby Union to help with defence and attack coaching at selection and training camps leading up to Rugby World Cup Sevens 2009 in Dubai, while she also coached fifteen's game against the Korean club team Seoul Sisters in Tokyo back in July.

The 36-year-old hopes to lend her experience to the Japanese side, even as far as leading them to the next World Cup. For now she continues to combine her role with raising her two young daughters, two-year-old Tessa often accompanies her mum to practice and already likes to stand the balls on cones for kicking.

With McCallum's presence, women's rugby might just be about to go through a 'girl power' revolution in traditional Japan.