Kurihara’s world record

After re-writing the record books in the first match against Chinese Taipei, Japan celebrated in style their ascent to RWC 2003 finals, their fifth presence in as many Tournaments, by running riot in the final match of the Asian qualifying zone in Tainan last July. Shinrokuro Kobayashi reports:

Japan left-wing Toru Kurihara, with 60 points - six tries and 15 conversions - sets a new world best, becoming the highest all-time RWC point scorer, beating the seemingly unassailable previous record of 50 points, set by Hong Kong’s Ashley; Billington against Singapore in 1994. Billington still retains the all time try record of 10 tries set against Singapore in the same match, though. Speedy centre-cum- winger Daisuke Ohata scored eight tries against Taiwan in the home match - to equal the 2003 RWC record set by Cook Island’s Lance Fitzpatrick against Tahiti.

The winning margin of 152 points set against the same visitors two weeks before - Japan 155 v Taiwan 3 - is also a new RWC record, improving the previous 1994 figure of 150 between Hong Kong and Singapore (163-13) by two points. The new RWC record equals the World Record of 152 points held by Argentina against Paraguay in the South American Championship this year. The aggregate score of 275-6 is also a new RWC record for the qualifying matches.

Kurihara’s 15 conversions betters Andrew Miller’s Japanese record of 12 set against the same opposition two weeks earlier, and puts him in third place, level with England’s Paul Grayson,, in the all-time RWC list dominated by New Zealand’s Simon; Culhane with 20. Culhane is also third in the all-time point- scorer list after Kurihara and Billington. They are followed by three players with 40 points each: Ohata, Jorge of Argentina and Fitzpatrick of Cook Islands.

While twenty four-year old Toru Kurihara is arguably one of the fines kickers in the country - a successor to Japan’s Keiji ‘gold boos’ Hirose whose nine penalties against Tonga in 1999 was Japan’s all time record until this year - he is also a lethal finisher. This unusual combination is what made him the world points record holder. For example, while Hirose’s international points tally of 318 was built in 31 tests over seven years, Kurihara’s 273 points have been gathered in only 17 matches over three seasons.

Kurihara started playing rugby at twelve at his junior high-school and his early career was dodged by injury. The slender Keio University utility back commenced his international career as a replacement wing three- in a Pacific-Rim Championship match against Fiji in May 2000 and won five more caps at fullback during the season. The following year Kurihara joined the Suntory company and as a result he got stronger and fitter and injury-free. This year, he moved to the left-wing position and scored at least one try in each of his subsequent six matches.

After the successful RWC qualifying campaign Kurihara, the eternal diplomat, gave credit to both his company, Suntory, and JRFU for his success: "The fact that the company enabled me, an employee, to devote four months to my rugby career is very important and should be praised. On the other hand credit should be given to the Japan RFU for the way they structured the professional season between April to July. It enabled me: to concentrate on the game, and also: allowed me to rest after matches. I spent time in the gym and trained with weights a lot. As I result I became: stronger, while avoiding injury."