It doesn’t seem that long since referee Craig Joubert’s blasted whistle sounded to bring Scotland’s Rugby World Cup dream to an agonising end at Twickenham last October but the SRU is already planning the next one.
With the 2019 tournament still over three years away, the union has already announced that Gregor Townsend will be the man to lead the national team to Japan and yesterday it announced a “strategic alliance agreement” with the southern city of Nagasaki, which will host a ten-day acclimatisation holding camp for Scotland ahead of the competition.
A large Japanese delegation, made up of rugby, civic and business representatives, was at BT Murrayfield yesterday to see SRU chief executive Mark Dodson and the mayor of Nagasaki, Tomihisa Taue, sign the agreement on the international pitch.
It deepens the SRU’s relationship with Japanese rugby following the accord they signed with the JRU in 2013 which has led to a number of Test matches in both countries as well as age-grade and referee exchanges.
Dodson said that those kinds of exchanges will be pursued with Nagasaki in particular and that potential pre-season tours from Glasgow and Edinburgh were ideas that were “in the mix”.
The centrepiece of the relationship will be the holding camp which will be held ahead of Scotland’s allocated base in 2019. “Anybody who has been there knows what the conditions are like,” said Dodson of Japan, where Scotland won both Tests in the series held in June. “The heat and humidity is incredible. It’s a fairly alien place if you haven’t been there before. It takes time to get used to it and we want to ensure our players get time to get used to being in Japan, in Nagasaki where they will have friends and resources.
“Nagasaki were very disappointed not to be a host city and they were thinking ‘how do we develop interest in grassroots rugby in Nagasaki’ if they’re not a host city. They approached us very early, which suited our forward planning. It dovetailed nicely and they want this to be their legacy.
“Other cities are now reaching out to other countries but we’re the first.”
Dodson is confident that Japan will host a well-run tournament in 2019 and added: “They used our two Tests as dry runs. Certainly the one in Toyota City was a case of ‘okay, let’s pretend this is a World Cup pool match, how will it work?’ They are constantly testing and have fantastic transport infrastructure.”
The guests have spent the week in Scotland visiting the BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy in Aberdeen, with Nagasaki RFC’s under-15s playing George Watson’s College at Myreside and the Japanese Consulate in Edinburgh hosting a civic reception.
Mayor Taue said: “I am very proud to sign this agreement at BT Murrayfield. The city’s first relationship with Scotland started 150 years ago with businessman Thomas Glover, we now have new relationship through rugby.
“I expect our relationship will expand in several areas and rugby will have a role in that.
“We hope Scotland have a good Rugby World Cup in 2019 and we will be supporting them.”
Fraserburgh-born businessman Glover is a nationally recognised figure in Japan. He was instrumental in developing Nagasaki’s shipyard in the 19th century and his life story is part of the Japanese school curriculum.
The Nagasaki holding camp will give Scotland access to pitches, a gymnasium, swimming pools and accommodation all in close proximity within Nagasaki.
Team manager Gavin Scott, SRU director of rugby Scott Johnson and chief medical officer James Robson have visited the city and toured the facilities.