The Failed Kamikaze Pilot Who Made Japanese Rugby Take Off

Shiggy Konno fought in World War II as a bomber pilot at the age of twenty one, by the the time he reached the ripe old age of twenty two, he volunteered to join a kamikaze squadron.

On his twenty third birthday he was told that his one and only mission would take place in a matter of weeks, he wrote a will and sent a letter to his parents saying goodbye, he  received his ceremonial Hachimaki (Helmet and scarf) and a bottle of Saki which he was due to drink on the morning of his mission.

Shiggy drank the whole bottle with his mate much sooner that he was supposed to, and was pretty hacked off that he couldn’t get a replacement bottle.

His squadron were due to fly in August 1945. but for some reason the mission was put back to the first week of September, Japan surrendered on August 14, so Shiggy lived.,

Shiggy Konno lived off this story, to say he dined out on it would be a vast understatement, this wonderfully engaging man would open up with this tale at every event with a cheeky smile and a glint in his eye, announcing himself as one of a very rare breed, a failed Kamikaze pilot.

He spoke perfect English, learned at a primary school in London when his father was manager of the Mitsubishi Bank.

When he was asked why he had to wait so long for a kamikaze mission he was told that only the best pilots would be used.

Interviewed In 1991 he said “I thought I was a good pilot, but I was told by my superiors that they didn’t think that I could hit Europe, never mind an American battleship.,

Konno played Prop for Doshiba University and was deprived of an international career due to the second world war.

His English was so good he became an ideal choice as a liaison officer which led to a brilliant career in rugby administration.

He was an executive member of the International Rugby Board from 1991 to 2000, manager of Japan on pretty much every overseas tour from 1963 to 1990 including three to the UK, and also at the 1987 and 1991 Rugby World Cup.

His impressive CV also shows him holding the roles at various times of Hon Secretary, Chairman and President of the Japan RFU.

Her Majesty the Queen awarded him the OBE in 1985 for his services to rugby and for helping to improve Anglo-Japanese relations.

Shiggy died on 1 April 2007, and his funeral was held in Zojoji temple in Tokyo the head temple of the Jodo sect of Buddhism in the Kanto region.



When Seasons Collide

In the old days my summer sport consisted of afternoons that lengthened with the Sun’s shadows, sat in a deck chair listening to the sound of seagulls and willow on leather on the south coast.

I’ve never bought the definition that cricket is just baseball on Valium, and as for watching it, well laziness is not just a physical phenomenon there is a huge mental side to it.

Many youthful summer afternoons were spent at Dean Park, Bournemouth, watching Hampshire play whilst drifting in and out of a relaxing snooze before a Gordon Greenidge Six would land in the tea tent, shattering the cups and saucers, and turning a county championship match in to the soundtrack of a Greek wedding.

You didn’t snooze for long with that Hampshire team, the West Indies star and South African genius Barry Richards opened the batting and there were no safe zones beyond the boundary.

Snoozes were equally limited when Hants were fielding, with the great Malcolm Marshall reigning down, his run up seemed to start somewhere near the pier and any wides or bouncers were likely to do more damage than anything Barnes-Wallace could have invented, they were a heck of a team.

These days the rugby and cricket seasons merge, there was a time when sportsman could play both games and at the top level.

The rugby season ended on May 1 and a new one started on September, and that was the natural order of things.

Keith Jarrett The Welsh wonder kid who beat England single handedly in 1967 as a teenager, also played cricket for Glamorgan.

Wilf Wooler, Vivian Jenkins and Jack and Billy Bancroft all played rugby for Wales and cricket for Glamorgan.

Dusty Hare the England full back played first class cricket for Notts, whilst another England full back, Alistair Hignell was an accomplished cricketer with Gloucestershire.

In the Southern Hempishere the legendary All Black Don Clarke turned out for Auckland, and Sir Graham Henry, yes that one, played cricket for Canterbury.

Brian McKechnie the full back who kicked Andy Haden’s line out dive penalty to beat Wales in 1978, played international cricket for New Zealand,

Heading to the land of Springbok, former captain Morne du Plessis wore the whites of Western Province with distinction.

Other notable names who have excelled at rugby and Cricket are Rob Andrew and Simon Halliday, who played rugby for England and first class cricket for Cambridge and Oxford university respectively.

The names of those that played top class rugby in the winter and cricket in the summer, are too numerous to mention, but sadly there will be no new ones to add to the list, I’m afraid that is the price of professionalism when seasons collide.

The real tragedy is that Malcolm Marshall was taken from us at such a ridiculously young age, those of us who had the privilege to see him play will never forget him.

Cheslin Kolbe A Boks Of Tricks

Every now and then a player comes along that transcends the ordinary, a player who when he gets ball makes you shuffle towards the edge of the seat, makes you draw breath sharply for that split second, and even before they have done anything your pulse begins to quicken.

Interestingly these players tend to be small of stature, which in the modern game where size is everything, makes the wonder of this rare species even more exhilarating.

Gerald Davies, Shane Williams, Jason Robinson all had these qualities and an ability to excite, they even made the hagggered hacks in the press box feel a tingle down the spine, something that years of written deadlines had all but extinguished.

These players are now all retired but their legacy lives on in the the shape, flair and raw speed of Cheslin Kolbe, all 5ft 7 and 11st 9lbs of him.

A few eyebrows were raised when Springbok coach, Rassie Erasmus, called up Cheslin Kolbe for last year’s Rugby Championship.

Regarded by many rugby pundits as “too small” for test rugby, it had been a case of “out of mind, out of sight” for the former Western Province and Stormers flyer after he had joined French club Toulouse in 2017.

like so many occasions previously, Kolbe proved people wrong, he took to Test rugby like a Bok to water. He made his debut in Brisbane against Australia, replacing Makazole Mapimpi in the 33rd minute, and scored his first test try a week later against the All Blacks, after intercepting an Anton Lienert-Brown pass in the Boks’ famous 36-34 win in Wellington.

 “I have been facing critics about my size since I started my senior career,  I don’t believe in size and weight but rather in a positive mind-set towards the game,” .

Twitter and Instagram have been awash with videos of the former Blitzbok ripping defences apart in the Top 14 for Toulouse, where he has become a cult-hero, the fans love him and Kolbe and his young family have settled down well in the south of France.

“My wife Layla and 2-year-old daughter Kylah are well settled in and loving life in Toulouse. I always say to people that to me Toulouse is similar to Cape Town, the only difference is that you don’t have all your family around, but the lifestyle and people are fantastic.

The 2019 European Player of the Year nominee says he loved his introduction to test rugby in 2018.

“Last year was a dream come true for me. Being called up to the Springboks and making my test debut is something I will cherish for the rest of my life. I’ve learned so much as a player in the time I’ve been a part of the Boks, and I’ll keep on learning. I had the best time with the brothers, it’s really a good team culture and atmosphere. No egos.” 

Born in Kraaifontein, a suburb of Cape Town, he is the cousin of South African  athletics star Wayde Van Niekerk, who won gold at the 2016 Olympics, so there is some gas in those genes.

He now has his sights set on the Rugby World Cup. “We are blessed with lots of quality outside backs in South Africa, and I see that as a positive for all of us, because that keeps us all on our toes and can just improve each and everyone’s game. Definitely giving everything I have to be part of the 2019 RWC in Japan and will just play the best rugby I can.”

Kolbe’s versatility, he is happy to play at fullback wing, can count in his favour come RWC selection time. “I’m comfortable and having fun at both wing and fullback. To me it’s a similar job. At fullback you have more time on the ball and have to make clever decisions from the back. So I’m happy to play either of the two as long as I can add great value to the team and that my performance will be to a great benefit for the team,” he concluded.

Nine days ago he won the Top 14 title in Paris with Toulouse, the “Lightning Bug” as he is nicknamed, may be small but I predict he will be big in Japan come the Rugby World Cup.

Harlequins Ladies Go Again

For Harlequins Ladies the gap between the old and the new season has been shorter than ever.

The summer is a race against time, to sort out niggly injuries that have been patched up game to game to get through the season, and in many cases now is the time to undergo surgery to sort out the more serious issues.

The pre season has already started before pre season has even begun, if you get my meaning.

The players have their individual plans to follow before proper pre season training begins at Surrey Sports Park in July. 

Rachael Burford, Jess Breach, Shaunagh Brown and Ellie Green have all gone under the knife and not to feel left out Jade Konkel, The Queen of Rehab, stabbed herself in the eye with a hairbrush that necessitated a trip to A&E.

For the Red Roses in the Quins bouquet of talent, there has also been no let up, Chloe Edwards, Leanne Riley, and Abbie Scott were all on England duty against the Barbarians,and will soon be off on national service to San Diego in the Women’s World Series.

There are players who will be hoping for a bit more luck this season, Ellie Miles has been in rehab since I’ve known her, if any person deserves a bit of luck then it’s her.

Also Debs McCormack is another who is owed some good fortune both on the club and international front, she had a frustrating 2018/19 so close to a come back only to be thwarted by last minute set backs on so many occasions, both Debs and Ellie are due a big break.

This will be the third season of the Tyrrells Premier 15s and Quins record is hugely impressive, only marred by two defeats to Saracens in the 2018 and 2019 Finals.

In the 41 matches they have played since the league began on 16 September 2017 they have lost only 7 and drawn 1.

Even during these long summer days they are working hard to make it third season lucky, and I for one wouldn’t bet against them.

Paris The Final Frontier

Paris seems to be centre of all things sporting at the moment, with the Women’s Football World Cup seeing plenty of action at Parc des Princes, the HSBC World Sevens enjoying a glorious weekend at Stade Jean Bouin, and Rafa Nadal barely having time to re-align his water bottles following his French open victory, before the folks from Clermont and Toulouse invaded the city of lights for the Top 14 Final at Stade de France.

Yellow vests have been visible for quite some time in the French capital, but the ones that headed north from the Auvergne on Saturday were a much more amicable bunch than had recently been seen on the boulevards and avenues.

Yellow continues to be the colour of the capital, as in a few weeks a bloke riding a bicycle whilst sipping champagne, will be doing a few laps around the Champs- Elysees also wearing a yellow shirt.

But it was not all yellow on Saturday, there was plenty of rouge et noir, or red and white to those us who found CSE French a little challenging.

The TGV’s unloaded their southern French human cargo at Gare de Lyon and Gare Montparnasse from the early hours, and with an 8.45pm kick off, (subsequently delayed due to President Macron’s eternal hand shaking) the bars and cafes stretching up to the northern suburbs of Saint Denis, shimmered in the summer sunshine as the espresso’s and Kronenberg’s were delivered at a pace.

La Ville Rose, The Pink City, or to give it its proper title Toulouse, is a proper rugby town, it is also the centre of the European aerospace industry but this season their rugby team is flying almost as high as their Airbus A320’s.

Toulouse citizens swapped the banks of the gorgeous Garonne for the sunny Seine, the red berets dreaming once again of Top 14 glory, and after a season of playing some glorious attacking rugby they beat Clermont in a pulsating final.

Thirty two year old Yoann Huget rolled back the years, and pinned back the ears, to score two tries for Toulouse in the 28th and 55th minutes whilst Clermont relied on six penalties, five of which came from the boot of Greg Laidlaw, failing to cross the rouge et noir try line.

The Top 14 gets a lot of stick outside of France, and indeed inside it, but those who don’t quite get the it, should attend a final, it embraces every art form, in glorious technicolor under azure skies, and it is it about much more than rugby, the first French championship final took place in 1892 and was won by Racing, the trip to Paris for the final has become a right of passage handed down from grandfathers and fathers to their sons and grandsons, the new generations temporarily hold the legacy before passing on the baton.

Paris was painted red on Saturday night, the long day irrelevant to the victors, but for the losers the fatigue kicked in, for players and fans alike, the moment Jerome Garces blew the final whistle.

The chartered train bringing Clermont fans to Paris for the day was due to arrive back home at 0446 on Sunday morning, the Michelin men will be disappointed and exhausted but boy will they have some stories to tell and some great memories to cherish, that is what the Top 14 is all about.

After ten long months the Top 14 season has come to a close, although down south in Toulouse the celebrations may well continue for quite some time.

a bientot




Gatland The Lion King

Warren Gatland has been appointed head coach for the Tour of South Africa in 2021.

Gatland is unbeaten in two consecutive tours to Australia and New Zealand as head coach of the Lions, and following today’s appointment becomes only the second person to lead a third tour after Sir Ian McGeechan.

The 55-year-old will start as head coach on 1 August 2020, and will work exclusively with the Lions until the conclusion of the 2021 tour to South Africa 12 months later.

Gatland knows first-hand the challenge posed by the Springboks, having already been part of a touring party to South Africa in 2009 as McGeechan’s forwards coach, but is confident of delivering success for the Lions in 2021.

Should Gatland avoid defeat, he would create Lions history by becoming the first person to lead tours to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa and remain unbeaten.

“I’m hugely honoured and delighted to lead the Lions again,” said Gatland.

“It is exciting and a great challenge to coach the best players from the four Home Nations.  The Lions rightly have a truly special place in the game and I jumped at the chance to be involved again when I was approached about the role.

“South Africa is a special place to play rugby. They have some of the most iconic stadiums in the world which will be packed full of passionate fans, and the Springboks have shown in recent times that they are back to being one of the dominant forces in the game.

“Having toured there in 2009 I know the scale of the task ahead of us – playing in South Africa presents a number of unique challenges such as playing at altitude, while the Boks will always be physical, aggressive and highly motivated.

“History tells you it’s a tough place to tour, but I am 100 per cent confident that we can go there and win – I would not be here if I thought differently.

“I’m delighted to now have everything in place to begin full-time in August 2020 as that gives me the best possible chance to plan for South Africa, but for the time being my focus is entirely on the Rugby World Cup and delivering a successful campaign for Wales.”

Gatland is unbeaten in two tours as head coach of the Lions, winning the Test series 2-1 against Australia in 2013 before a remarkable tie against New Zealand four years later – with the tourists drawing a dramatic final Test against the All Blacks.

He is also currently the longest-serving international rugby coach in the world, and since his appointment in 2008 Wales have won three Grand Slams and a further Six Nations title, as well as twice reaching the knock-out stages of the Rugby World Cup.

Following this year’s Grand Slam victory Wales remain on a record-breaking 14-match winning run, and having also coached Ireland from 1998 to 2001, Gatland is unparalleled in terms of experience at international level with 158 Tests to his name so far.

Domestically, Gatland has also coached Connacht and Wasps – winning three English Premiership titles and a Heineken Cup during his time in London – before a stint with hometown side Waikato in New Zealand where he claimed the Air New Zealand Cup.

Ben Calveley, managing director of the British & Irish Lions, said: “We’re delighted to have got our man; Warren is a world-class coach, boasts a proven track record, and knows the Lions better than anyone else currently coaching in world rugby – so naturally he was our first-choice candidate from the start of the process.

“This was a unanimous decision from the Lions board, and it was important that we moved swiftly and proactively to secure Warren’s signature.

“Appointing him two years ahead of time ensures Warren can also be involved in planning the logistics and scheduling elements of the tour. I’m looking forward to working alongside him to give the Lions the best chance of success in South Africa.

“The supporters are central to what make the Lions special, and with the world’s finest coach at the helm, excitement will grow even further.”

Lions chairman Jason Leonard knows exactly what it takes to triumph against the Springboks – the three-time tourist played eight matches, including one Test, in 1997 when the Lions last beat South Africa.

He added: “Warren’s record as a Lions coach is almost unparalleled and the challenge of quickly blending a successful team together from the four Home Nations cannot be overestimated.

“One of his greatest strengths is the ability to galvanise a group quickly, and the last two tours have shown clearly that Warren understands – and truly loves – the Lions.

“He has the skill set and the know-how to make a Lions tour work as it should, so we’re certain he is the right man to lead us to a Test series victory.

“We may be playing away in the heartland of South Africa,but I am confident that yet again, our fantastic supporters will make the matches feel like home games to the team. To me as a player, it made all the difference, and now I can’t wait to be part of the famous sea of red enjoying the tour of a lifetime.”


Coaching career:

·       Connacht (1996-98)

·       Ireland (1998-2001: 38 Tests)

·       Wasps (2002-05: 3x Premiership titles, 1x Heineken Cup)

·       Waikato (2005-07: 1x Air New Zealand Cup)

·       Wales (2007-19: 4x Six Nations titles, 3x Grand Slams, Rugby World Cup semi-final and quarter-

        final, 114 Tests to date)

·       British & Irish Lions: 2009, 2013, 2017

o   2009 – Assistant coach (forwards)

o   2013 and 2017 – Head coach

–          Gatland is the longest-serving international rugby coach in the world.

–          He also holds the record for the most Test matches overseen (158 to date).

–          Gatland is the only coach to have won three Grand Slam titles.

–          He has led two British & Irish Lions tours as head coach, and was unbeaten in Test series’ against Australia (2-1) and New Zealand (1-1-1).


Top 14 The Never Ending Season Reaches Bordeaux

The 2018/19 Top 14 season began on 25 August 2018, last weekend the semi finals took place in Bordeaux, and there are probably Merlot grapes that have had a shorter season than their rugby playing counterparts, such has been the length of this exhausting campaign.

Whilst there is sanguine advice to drink the Bordeaux grape juice in moderation, player welfare in France does not carry any government health warnings.

After the first semi final on Saturday night, between Toulouse and La Rochelle, the only warning should have been to spectators, it was mainly a turgid affair and it would have been advisable not to drive or operate any heavy machinery due to the drowsiness it caused, thank heavens for Cheslin Kolbe who managed to turn a fully induced coma to a cat nap every once in a while.

Sunday afternoon proved to be a much more entertaining affair, as Clermont eventually beat Lyon 33-13, the Michelin men pulled away after 50 minutes and ended up comfortable winners, although the half time score of 16-8 gave food for thought.

84,113 spectators drank in the sunshine at the Matmut Atlantique stadium over the two days, and to cap it all that full bodied Georgian red, Davit Zirakashvili, made his 248th Top 14 appearance when he came of the bench for Clermont.

So the top two teams of the league stage, deservedly head north for one final fling in Paris next Saturday, where the vin rouge of Bordeaux will be replaced by champagne for one of the protagonists, lets hope the rugby as well as the bubbly is vintage.

After ten months duration the 2018/19 Top 14 season will finally come to an end “Plus ca change.