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The Russian Spy: My Intro to Rugby was Sumo, sort of…

TOKYO, JAPAN –  Zdrasvtvuyte Volkov, the Russian spy navigating the dangerous waters of International Rugby, is reporting for duty… Okay, maybe not. But I am from that part of the world and like many bad ideas, was also conceived in Communist times and exposed to the compulsory Russian, so it’s not that far-fetched an idea.

But… I do work in Japanese sports media because one dark stormy night, a Russian-Japanese sumo legend speaking at Waseda University, invited me to watch his stable – where sumos live. I went. A pretty Russian girl was there, reporting for Russian Newsweek about Roho, the Russian sumo wrestler. [A few years later he was banned for smoking weed]. I helped her interview the wrestlers, who lived above the stable in one big room and didn’t get paid. The younger kids did the big boys’ laundry. Pretty hardcore stuff – talk about huge diapers.

"Howyoudoin?" "Good." "Howyoudoin?" "Good."

Anyway, we had a lot of fun doing the interviews and because most foreign correspondents don’t speak Japanese –media reliability for ya – I ended up doing stories for major newspapers. Japanese Rugby is legendary. It has so many characters, good stories, passion, intrigue, excitement, Todd Clever, and all that. It needs to be covered. So, I started writing about Japanese rugby and went to the Rugby World Cup in France.

Before France, I was on an assignment to the Pacific Nations Cup in Fiji. Now, Fijians are friendly… They have coconuts.They invited me to their after-game function with Japan. After, the amazing Fijian coach ended up leaving the function to get hold of me, and we drank a few awesome Fijian beers elsewhere. And that was the beginning. From there, my rugby assignments in New Zealand and France always exposed me to the kindest, nicest people and to the most interesting rugby cultures.

George Gregan's Top League Select vs Japan for Great East Japan Earthquake at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground.

On local turf, I will always be the foreign spy lady with the funny accent and suspicious interest in the game.  In this amazing microcosm, though, you find phase-out-stage international superstars like George Gregan. You see Eddie Jones shaking hands with John Kirwan.

Jones & Kirwan; Tokyo

But what really captivates me are the surreal stories of East meeting West in rugby and camaraderie, of players bowing to the rugby field as if entering a dojo and showing the many faces of the expansion of the game beyond the comfort zone of Tier One. All in The Land of Dragons.

Well, that’s my intro to RugbyWrapUp, I hope you and enjoyed it.

Japan prop and earthquake-hit Miyagi prefecture native Kensuke Hatakeyama with kids from Miyagi.

Rugby photos all taken by Aki Nagao. at the Top League Select vs Japan for the Great East Japan Earthquake Charity Game at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground

The cat-like Roho