Rugby: Otago influence paying dividends for Japanese development

Playing rugby down under is a dream opportunity for Kansai University students visiting Dunedin, as part of the Otago University 150th celebrations.

New Zealand is seen as the pinnacle of the game and the Kiwi influence on Japanese rugby isn't limited to hosting teams.

"Sending talent - both playing and coaching - up to Japan undoubtedly has an influence on the standard of rugby in Japan," says Paul Hessian.

Jamie Joseph's elevation to national coach saw Highlanders replacement Tony Brown take over at the Sunwolves.

"Jamie Joseph is coach of Japan team now," says Kansai Rugby Football Union president Demi Sakata. "He has a very, very good rugby knowledge."

But the former Highlanders haven't cut ties with their old team completely, fostering a mutually beneficial relationship between Otago and Japan.

"The biggest thing for me is I that I think Japanese enjoy the Otago way of doing things," says Otago coach Ben Herring. "It's all about people, it's about good people doing good things and just looking after your mates."

Rugby jobs in Japan also offer healthy pay packets.

Highlanders stars Jackson Hemopo and Liam Squire are among the latest to sign deals with Japanese clubs, along with Crusaders midfielder Ryan Crotty.

"It's growing the game in Japan," says Herring. "And the Japanese people, as a general rule, love rugby and are passionate about it.

"And to see them putting a lot of money and time and investment into it is awesome for rugby in Japan."

Some players have gone the other way, including Highlanders favourite Fumiaki Tanaka.

The profile of rugby has never been higher in Japan, with the World Cup set to kick off there in six months' time.