(The following is a summarised excerpt from the JRugby Podcast, Ep.5)
By Lee Watkins
“I just remember when Michael Leitch turned that penalty down, I was pulling my hair out, thinking, ‘Oh my God! You’ve just turned down the chance to draw with South Africa’. And then slowly you started thinking, ‘Hold on, this is possible…if they go left, this is on.’ When it happened – mayhem! There were guys in the press box next to me absolutely balling their eyes out,” says Rich Freeman.
In the rugby world, there are moments which stick long in the memory. Who can forget that Jonny Wilkinson drop goal in 2003, or Nelson Mandela wearing a Springboks jersey in 1995? Last week, was the one year anniversary of Japan’s famous win against South Africa, with people around the world reminiscing about one of the biggest upsets in sporting history. We caught up with Rich Freeman, the Kyodo news journalist, who was covering Japan’s exploits inside the Brighton stadium on that day.
“I had a very good Japanese friend of mine that was in the stands behind the press box, who ran down and was just grabbing anybody he could to give them a hug. Also, I have to give special credit to the South African journalists who were brilliant. All of them congratulated the Japanese journalists…and it was one of those strange days where people were actually referring to me as Japanese which was a bit of an honour,” says Rich.
Rich’s passion for Japanese rugby runs deep. He first started reporting on corporate rugby matches in the late 1990s and then moved to Tokyo to work full-time as a rugby journalist. Alongside his full-time job with Kyodo News, he is also the Japanese rugby correspondent for Rugby World Magazine, writes for the World Rugby Yearbook, and works with J-Sports and TV New Zealand. “Basically, whenever a media outlet needs stories out of Japan, then I tend to be the person they go to.”
Although he gets to travel extensively and witnessed all of Japan’s matches at the World Cup last year, Rich is quick to point out that the life of a rugby correspondent isn’t
“the most glamorous of jobs at times.”
On the night of that famous victory against the Springboks, you would expect everyone to crack open the champagne and celebrate but Rich explains the realities of life in the press box. “I don’t think we finished work until 11pm that night! We had two stories to write on the final whistle, which obviously meant a lot of changes in that last couple of dramatic minutes. And then on top of that, you have to go for interviews, you’ve got to write re-caps, you’ve got to write various versions of that particular story.”
The high quality food, ranging from Cornish pasties to soups and sandwiches, helped Rich get through his busy schedule while in England last year. “It is a long old day at times when you’re at a ground (stadium), and so if someone gives you a nice pasty, or a nice sandwich or coffee, then you tend to write more complimentary stories!” jokes Rich. Whereas in Japan, Rich has to queue with everyone else or use the vending machines during the busy half-time intervals.
However, the quality of the rugby in Japan, more than makes up for the lack of catering options. “They really do want to play rugby as it should be played, which is ball in hand, at speed, and it’s great to watch. It’s a 15 man game, and everybody wants to run with it. The defence, at times, is a bit manic, but the bravery from some of the smaller players over here…that’s the great thing. When Japanese rugby is played well, then it’s probably the best rugby in the world to watch.”
If you would like to find out more about Rich Freeman and his thoughts on Japanese rugby, including why Japan no longer hosts the Tokyo Sevens tournament and more information about the Panasonic Wild Knights involvement in the Brisbane Global Tens next year, then please listen to the JRugby Podcast on SoundCloud or i-Tunes. Also, if you would like regular updates, please like our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter.