It is said that the origin of rugby dates back to 1823 at Rugby School in England, when during a football match, student William Webb Ellis began running for the opposing team’s goal with the ball held in his hands.
In fact, the Rugby World Cup’s trophy is known as “The Webb Ellis Cup” and has an engraving to match!
Nearing the close of the Edo period in 1868, Kobe opened its port to the world on the 1st of January, and many aspects of modern western culture began flowing into Kobe.
Amongst that was a number of sports, including soccer, golf and tennis, alongside rugby which were introduced to the area.
In 1870, a person called Alexander Cameron Sim arrived in Kobe, and by founding the KR&AC (Kobe Regatta & Athletic Club), knowledge of western sports were spread throughout the area.
Opinions vary, but based on a record from the 8th of December, 1876 of a match between people from KR&AC and sailors from the British warship Modeste with rules similar to those in rugby, that is said to have been the first game of rugby played in Kobe.
Source:”Kobe Legget & Athletic Club”
The full-scale start to rugby in Japan wouldn’t happen until Autumn of 1899 when, a teacher called Edward B. Clark had Ginnosuke Tanaka help him teach rugby to Japanese students at Keio University.
The team formed at this time is considered to be the first rugby team in Japan, and it is because of this that Mr. Clark is said to be the father of rugby in Japan.
From then onwards, the Keio University rugby club has been having periodic matches with KR&AC at Higashi Yuenchi Park.
After Mr. Clark passed away, he was buried in the Kobe Municipal Foreign Cemetery, where many of the foreign residents who helped in the development of Kobe were laid to rest.
To have part of the 2019 Rugby World Cup held in Kobe then, feels like a connection that’s overcome time.
Kwansei Gakuin College, known more affectionately as Kwangaku, was founded in Harada-no-Mori in Nada ward of Kobe city, and in May of 1912, rugby practice commenced there with a focus on the high school section of the college.
At the time, there were about 30 people participating, and when they practiced they would wear t-shirts, long exercise pants and sports shoes.
Their instructor was Mr. Outerbridge, a professor of the university and former rugby player during his time at Canada’s Mount Allison University.
Mr. Outerbridge would teach the sport wearing the standard style of a red and white striped rugby shirt, shorts and rugby shoes.
Back then, they still didn’t have a team uniform.
Source: “Kwansei Gakuin Sports History”
Their first practice was held on what was then Kwansei Gakuin Ground, and now known as Oji-Koen. When one thinks of the Kobelco Steelers, the image of a red jersey is pretty strong, but that was actually only introduced in 1965.
In 1978, the team accepted players from Oxford University in England, and they became the first non-Japanese players in a workplace-based rugby team in Japan.
The very first Rugby World Cup took place in 1987, and from Kobelco Steelers, players Hayashi, Hagimoto, Oyagi and Hirao were selected as representatives for the Japanese team. It was truly a moment of pride for the city.
In 1988 at the 41st Japan Company Rugby Football Championship, Kobelco Steelers overcame Toshiba Fuchu for their first championship win.
Defeating Daito Bunka University at the 26th All-Japan Rugby Football Championship, Kobelco Steelers became the top team in Japan for the first time. This would be the start of a seven year winning streak.
Source:”Kobe steel, Ltd.
At the 32nd All-Japan Rugby Football Championship that followed, they would also win 102-14 against Daito Bunka University and leave their mark as the 7 time national champions.
However, just two days after their national victory, on the 17th of January 1995, the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake occured.
The team’s training ground in Nadahama was damaged by liquefaction, and it was was no longer usable for practice.
Source:Kobe steel, Ltd.
Their opponent for the match, WORLD, was also from Kobe!
WORLD was also quite strong at this time, and as a grand final between two teams from Kobe, it was a match to be remembered.
Then, at the grand final for the 37th All-Japan Rugby Football Championship which followed, Kobelco Steelers overcame TOYOTA Verblitz and were once more crowned as the top team in Japan.
At the grand final for the 53rd Japan Company Rugby Football Championship, they defeated TOYOTA Verblitz 29-26 making their second consecutive and ninth total win of this championship.
They then made their way to the grand final of the 38th All-Japan Rugby Football Championship, where they would draw 27-27 with Suntory Sungoliath.
For the 5th Rugby World Cup in 2003, Ito, Saito, Sonoda, Miller, Motoki, and Ohata were selected from the team as representatives of Japan.
After the opening of the port of Kobe City in 1868, rugby made its way into Kobe. In its beginning, rugby games were mostly played at the Kobe Regatta & Athletic Club and at Kwansei Gakuin College in Harada-no-Mori. Afterwards, the company teams from Kobe Steel and WORLD made great strides in the sport. More recently, variants like tag rugby have become more popular, and rugby has found its place as a familiar sport in Japan.
The great efforts of the Cherry Blossoms, Japan’s team for the 8th Rugby World Cup in 2015, is still a fresh memory too.
Now, in 2019, the 9th Rugby World Cup will be coming to Kobe as well.
What an exciting thing!
Amazing players from around the world will come to Kobe, and show off their skills at Kobe Misaki Stadium.
Let’s all go watch and give our support to the teams!