Kubota’s “Amazing Corona Measures” for their first Rugby League One victory. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Kubota’s “Amazing Corona Measures” for their first Rugby League One victory.

The head trainer is Ichiro Yoshida, who was also involved in Shuki Irabu's major challenge. What kind of countermeasures have they taken?

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Rido Tachikawa leads the team as the captain. He put on his mask immediately after the game (Photo: AFLO)

Kubota Spears Funabashi/Tokyo Bay is putting on its own unique color in Japan Rugby League One, which was inaugurated in January of this year. The team is currently in second place out of 12 teams, and is also committed to results in the fight against the new coronavirus infection. While other teams have been unable to increase their points due to loss of games due to the outbreak of infected cases, Spears has established a system that allows them to know the results of tests on the same day. This has prevented the tragic cancellation of games.

The Spears finished in the top four in the former Top League last season and are in second place in this season’s League One with three games remaining. It is not only the members on the field, including world-class players, and the promotional staff who are steadily increasing their patronage.

The trainers who support the health of the players are also responding to the outbreak of infection by using their accumulated expertise and human networks.

We talk with the management staff about what to do in the event of a positive result. We do simulations in advance.

Ichiro Yoshida, head trainer, speaks on behalf of the club. Mr. Yoshida is a calm, heavyweight trainer who was involved in the major challenge of Hideki Irabu, the current Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath rugby player.

Creating a system to obtain PCR test results on the same day

In Division 1, the highest level of League One, 15 of the 84 matches up to the 14th round were cancelled due to infectious diseases, and at one point, Executive Director Hajime Tokaibayashi held a press conference to sort out the requirements for the league’s establishment. The league played only two games out of the six scheduled for the third and sixth sections in late January and mid-February, respectively.

In the midst of this difficult situation at Japan’s top level, Yoshida has always preached one thing: “The people who have become Coronas are the bad guys.

He has always preached one thing: “People who become Coronas become the bad guys, and I feel sorry for them. I want to eliminate such discrimination and distinctions as much as possible, so I tell the athletes, ‘It (infection) is inevitable. Instead, I have always said, ‘Let’s try not to spread it any further.

What I think about in the 30 years that I have been in this field is that “the knowledge required has become more and more. Times have changed, and updates have been required.

Concussions, awareness of doping…. The most recent addition to that was the ability to deal with infectious diseases. After the spring of 2020, when times had changed, the first step was to establish a relationship with the local Funabashi health department. We asked one of our team members to serve as a point of contact.

Based on the expertise they had gathered, they also established a rule within the department. A list of criteria for players and others to enter the clubhouse was shared.

When the state of emergency was lifted for the first time in Japan, the team members acted as “gatekeepers” in front of the entrance to check the temperature and verbally check the condition of the members coming to practice. On one occasion, he sent a player home on the spot if his temperature exceeded 37 degrees Celsius, even though there was no problem when he went out.

Rugby is a contact sport, so it is possible for forwards (who often collide with each other) to catch conjunctivitis from each other. So we have been taking precautions against small infections for a long time. As the flu season approaches, we call out to players about vaccinations and make a batch of appointments for those who wish to receive them. We have hand-washing and gargling supplies at the clubhouse to encourage them to do so…. (I am now more conscious of the need to do this more firmly,” he said.

Just before the start of the final year of the Top League, weekly PCR testing became mandatory. In many cases, the test results are available the day after the test is conducted, and the general flow for weekend games is “test on Monday or Tuesday, submit on Thursday.

Spears, however, was the first to be able to determine black and white results on the same day. Using the personal connections of his team of trainers, he was able to find an inspection company with a reputation for speed.

Mr. Yoshida contacted the company to confirm the timing of testing and the availability of test kits. When a positive test result is found, he and the Funabashi Public Health Center, with whom he had been in contact for some time, quickly identify the person with whom the patient has had a close contact.

He will also ask for cooperation from the coaching staff to make smarter use of the system that has been developed.

We threw the coaches a form of “no practice on Monday, just testing, and practice from Tuesday…after confirming the negative test. There was a lot of discussion at first, because it would mean one less day of practice. However, we were able to think together about what we should do in order to play the games. And I can say that this has reduced the number of positive results.”

PCR testing. Because of the large number of specimens, it is customary for the general public to not know the results until the day after the test, but Kubota has created a system whereby the results are known on the day of the test (photo: AFRO).

Thus, the Spears are able to have at least 23 players (including 6 front row players whose expertise is questionable) who are neither positive nor heavy contact every week. The coaches retain the right to play the game and can then move on to member selection.

Infection control rules for the newborn League One were established by last year. It was before the highly contagious Omicron strain became an epidemic in Japan, and it was decided that teams that were unable to play due to an increase in the number of positive or heavy contact cases would be declared “no-shows.

The number of points won, which determines the ranking, is “5” for a “non-fight winner” versus “0” for a “non-fight loser. In addition, the intermittent “no-shows” may affect the quality of practice before and after the match, as well as the motivation of the players. Six of the seven teams that experienced “no-game losses” were in seventh place or lower at the end of the 14th round.

Fine play” that nipped the pinch of mass infection in the bud.

In other words, a team’s ability to respond to the Omicron strain can directly affect its performance. Mr. Yoshida, who is now seen as holding the key to the team’s ups and downs, experienced a “severe shock” early in the season.

On a certain “Monday,” there were two positive tests. It turned out that the players in question had been doing gym work in the clubhouse on “Sunday,” and another player there had tested “negative.

The “negative” player was not likely to be a person of intense contact, so he offered to participate in practice starting on “Tuesday. Yoshida, however, was not going to comply with the request, just to be sure.

I convinced the third player that it might be an incubation period, so let’s wait and see.

But as it turned out, the third player was not convinced.

In the end, the third player developed a fever three days later. It was positive. If we had allowed that player to practice, thinking he was fine because he was negative, the infection would have spread.

On the contrary, the Spears have literally worked as a single unit to avoid the pinch of “consecutive losses.

There were times when the foreigner, who lived close to the other team’s players, was asked to live in a hotel. This was to prevent the frequent outbreaks of domestic infections that have occurred in various regions.

The team is now closing in on a playoff berth with the top four teams.

I don’t know if I will be able to do so 100 percent, but I hope to gradually return to the way I practice and live. If I can’t practice enough, the risk of injury will increase. We would feel bad if a player tests positive or is in poor condition and is unable to play, even though League One is running a commercial and the audience is looking forward to seeing a world-famous foreigner play. We also have to think about how to improve the quality of practice while dealing with infections.

Mr. Yoshida is doing his best to comply with the current rules, but he is also looking ahead to the future.

  • Interview and text by Mukafu Miya

    Sports writer born in Toyama Prefecture in 1982. Graduated from Seijo University, Faculty of Literature and Arts, Department of Arts, and has worked as a sportswriter since 2006. He has been working as a sportswriter since 2006, mainly covering rugby. He is the author of "Sunwolves no Chosen, Super Rugby: Tsuyouru Wolves no Kiroku" (Sunwolves' Challenge, Super Rugby: Record of the Fighting Wolves) published by Futabasha.

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