Growing Rugby League in Japan

By Shun Tamura and Lachlan Grieve

On Sunday 21 July, in 33C heat, a Rugby League Sevens tournament took place in the Kansai area (West of Japan).

Rugby League is a largely unknown sport in Japan compared to its counter code, Rugby Union. Traditionally, very little Rugby League have been played domestically, however the Tokyo based Japanese Rugby League (JRL) and its volunteers have been working tirelessly since its launch in 1993 to grow the sports on the ground level. In recent years the JRL launched the first ever regular season competition, the JRL National Cup, which is currently battled out between two Tokyo based teams over a 10 game series.

As part of its expansion plan and to introduce the sport to prospective players outside of Tokyo, the JRL teamed up with Otemon Gakuin University in Osaka and JRL affiliated players who are based in the Kansai area, to launch the first ever Kansai based Rugby League Sevens tournament.


The tournament was held on a fantastic artificial turf ground at Otemon Gaukin University. Six teams participated in two pools over the course of the day. Entrants came from those who play with local Open Age Rugby Union Clubs, 2 teams from the Otemon Gakuin Students Rugby Union Club, and teams made of Kansai based Rugby League players.

Although many entrants currently play or have played in top amateur Rugby Union clubs in the area, most players were new to Rugby League, so the day started with a short session with JRL staff who explained the main rule differences between Rugby Union and League. The notable differences in Rugby League are that there are no Rucks or Mauls, but instead every time a tackle is made the attacking team player with the ball performs a “play-the-ball” (standing up and rolling the ball back under his foot behind him) where he was tackled, and play resumes from there. The attacking team has 6 attempts to make a try, while the defending team retreats 10m after every tackle – making the game much fast paced and physical than Rugby Union. After a few practices at playing the ball and basic tactical talk – which the players picked up very quickly – it was game time.

Following a series of intense games in the blazing summer heat, strong local Rugby Union team Chollima Club came out on top, winning the Grand Final 10-4 against Kansai Kaminari, a team consisting of a mix between expats and Japanese players who live in the Kansai area. The Otemon Gakuin Students teams played their hearts out against bigger, more experienced Open Age players and showed great potential. All in all the day was a great success with players talking about how much they were looking forward to participating again next year.


As well as making Kansai Rugby League Sevens an annual event, the JRL are planning on introducing third and fourth teams into the National Cup over the next few years. On the International Representative scene, the Japanese National team, JRL “Samurais”, will be travelling to the Philippines this October to compete in the Asia Cup, a three way tournament against Philippines National Rugby League (PNRL) and Thailand Rugby League (TRL). The aim of the tournament is to introduce and develop the game of Rugby League within Asia, with plans for Japan to host the 2014 Asia Cup.

More information can be found on the JRL website, If you are interested in playing or would like to get involved in helping develop the game of Rugby League in Japan, please email

Daniel Andruczyk’s email:
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