Debutants eager to put emphasis on attack

Little man Iwabuchi looking to play big game
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The Independent Online

No sooner has Japan's outside-half Kensuke Iwabuchi got over his World Cup blues - his country lost all three of their pool games and though in the squad he did not make it on to the pitch for any of that sad trio - than he finds himself blue again.

No sooner has Japan's outside-half Kensuke Iwabuchi got over his World Cup blues - his country lost all three of their pool games and though in the squad he did not make it on to the pitch for any of that sad trio - than he finds himself blue again.

This time, though, he welcomes it. Today, when he trots out at Twickenham, he will become the first Japanese to appear for Cambridge University in the annual Varsity Match.

"When the captain, Angus Innes, knocked on my door at College and told me I was selected for the Varsity Match I was very excited, possibly more than I had been for the World Cup.

"There will be more than 60,000 people there. The biggest crowd I have played in front of is 40,000 in the Hong Kong Sevens last year when Japan beat Scotland in the Plate final."

Iwabuchi is not the first Japanese to appear in the traditional fixture. Oxford have fielded two, the first was the prop Toshiyuki Hayashi in 1990, the other was back row forward Takuro Miuchi last year. But Iwabuchi is well aware of the special place he will hold in Varsity history and it has certainly helped to offset the misery of Japan's World Cup.

"I had been really looking forward to getting on during the World Cup," said Iwabuchi, "although realistically, because of the strategy Japan has adopted, I knew I did not have that much of a chance, so although I was disappointed it was not totally unexpected.

"But as a squad we had really believed we could progress at least to the second round stage of the tournament so, after losing the opening match against Samoa very heavily and then the remaining two, we were very down."

Iwabuchi is in the second of a two-year course studying social and political sciences, having first obtained a degree at Aogakuin University in Tokyo in International Politics.

The 23-year-old Iwabuchi does not harbour any ambitions to enter mainstream politics, however. His sights are trained more obliquely. "I might run my own business," he mused, "but I also want to study for an MBA, maybe at Harvard in the United States.

"But international politics interests me as well and I might see if a body such as the United Nations would have something for me. There is not a Japanese on the UN committee, so maybe I could be the first of my country on that, although I would have to improve my English."

Before all that, though, he has two more immediate goals. "One is to play professional rugby in England and the second is to study for a PhD in Political Science or Political Thought."

He is realistic about his chances of playing professional club rugby in England, though. "The main problem is that I am Japanese and do not have a British or a European passport," he said. "And because only two foreigners are allowed to play for a club at the same time most of the teams would look to South Africans, or big players from other countries. I am a fly-half and not big enough."

In their build-up to today Cambridge have played a number of club sides including Leicester and Northampton, but Iwabuchi's mail pigeon-hole has remained empty.

"When we have played clubs this season I have tried to impress them. Unfortunately they have not made contact with me." Amid the stoicism, though, lurks a steely pride, "I have not written or telephoned them," he added, "but this is my big match. It is very important for me to show what I can do at Twickenham." With his pace and thoughtful approach, that should be plenty. Oxford have been warned.

FitzGerald primed to supply the flair and vision

At Eton College he was "The Cardiac Kid". That was how the Canada outside-half and captain, Gareth Rees, regarded him whenever Seb FitzGerald launched one of his audacious counter-attacks.

The ventricular fibrillations of onlookers and opposition alike were only arrested by the shot of adrenalin that the daring young man's exploits stimulated. Rees coaches rugby at Eton and has seen plenty of wannabes in his time there. FitzGerald, though, made a lasting impression.

"He would try things from anywhere," explained Rees, of the now 20-year-old stand-off who is half-way through a modern languages degree at Oxford University. "Perhaps that is a fault that he will try to run the ball too much from the deep.

"But I am glad he has progressed so far. He is a natural attacker and a great fly-half. He has vision, he sees gaps no one else does. He reads the game so well."And FitzGerald does not deny it. "My natural inclination is an attacking game," he admitted.

This afternoon FitzGerald has a chance to back up that statement when he wins his first Blue in the Varsity Match at Twickenham. Nerves could let him down, but Rees is confident: "There is a tendency for some players to try to shut things down on the big occasion, and hopefully he will be able to take advantage of that."

The man in question is cool about it. "Obviously it will be the biggest game I will have played in but I think once we are out there it will be OK," he said.

And he will not go into all-out attacking mode either. "When possible I try to play quite flat, but obviously, in the Varsity match, field position and territory is quite important so I will have to vary my game according to the state of things at any one time, kicking when required, using the backs when the situation demands."

He has ambitions, among them to have a taste of professional rugby. He has already got a foot in the door at Bath, where he played second XV rugby last season.

The Bath coach, Jon Callard, the former England full-back revealed: "His first game for the United side was, ironically, against Oxford University. He did all right, apart from the interception try he gave away in the first two minutes."

But FitzGerald quickly put that behind him and proved to the old pros that he was prepared to knuckle down and work at his game. Callard again: "He showed a lot of endeavour. He had faults when he came to us, but he has worked on them.

"When he was with us there was not much of him, but for all his lack of size and weight he was a ferocious tackler, he showed no fear, and he was very quick. He certainly has immense potential.

"If I had a criticism of him when I first saw him he could not kick, but he has worked at that aspect of his game. I would not like him to slip through the net, I would definitely like to sign him full-time."

For his part, FitzGerald said: "I'd certainly like to give pro rugby a go, but I am not sure if Bath would be first choice It is a long way from London, so I might look somewhere closer to home."

If he is a muddied oaf in the winter then he could become a flannelled fool in the summer months. He played in the Eton v Harrow cricket match at Lord's in 1998, when he scored 19 before being stumped in a rain-affected draw.

But he has no ambitions to become a double Blue because "my cricket is not up to it." But his rugby certainly is, by the sound of it. Stand by for some heart-stopping moments from the Cardiac Kid.