Konno aims to keep faith

Rugby union diary Clem Thomas
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The Independent Online
SHIGGY KONNO, Japan's rugby supremo and one of the game's greatest personalities, is in no doubt about the direction rugby should be taking. This urbane man is a bastion of amateur principles and Corinthian ideals, and is totally against the concept of making the sport professional, a question which last week exercised the minds of the International Rugby Board.

Those who most oppose New Zealand's proposal for professionalism are England, Scotland, lreland, Argentina and Japan. Konno told me that rugby in his country was all about the ideal of fair play. Not one player was sent off in Japanese club rugby last season, while no Japanese player has ever been sent off in an international.

"Our players never talk about the issue and they have no understanding of professionalism or why other countries want to change," he said. "It is never even discussed in our newspapers or rugby magazines. Our rugby is based around companies amd government agencies and is seen as a recreational rather than a means of earning a living.''

Ironically, while Eddie Tonks, the New Zealand chairman, was fighting to get payment for his players, he was beset by further problems at home. The country's newly founded rugby league club, Auckland Warriors, drew a gate of 35,000 for their opening game against the Brisbane Broncos last Friday night; two days later, Auckland, New Zealand's premier union side, were beaten 31-15 in the Super Ten series in front of a crowd of only 10,000. Auckland, with its huge Islander population, has apparently become rugby league mad.

Further evidence of New Zealand's decline is that their teams are performing badly in the Super Ten, for North Harbour lost to Transvaal and Otago lost to New South Wales. The only New Zealand win so far in the competition was Otago's 33-21 defeat of Western Province.

THE biggest surprise in the voting for the venue of the 1999 World Cup was that South Africa voted for Wales in what turned out to be an acrimonious contest.

Australia, who accused Wales of altering their original bid, are angry over what they see as discourtesy shown to their president, Phil Harry, and chief exec- utive Bruce Hayman on a visit to Cardiff Arms Park last week.

Apparently, the secretary of the WRU would not leave a meeting to see them. They were pointed in the direction of the stadium by a member of staff. Walking on to the ground, they were asked to get off the pitch by the groundstaff, so they returned to Bristol in high dudgeon, where the Welsh chairman, Vernon Pugh, was trying to placate them until the early hours.