Manchester Met helps Japan’s Olympic rugby sevens teams go for gold

The university's Stephanie Sturges has been advising the country’s men’s and women’s squads on leadership and strategy

Manchester Met University’s Masters of Sport Directorship (MSD) course is playing a key role in Japan’s rugby sevens Olympic medal ambitions, in the run up to the 2020 Tokyo games.

MSD programme director, Stephanie Sturges, was invited to Japan at the end of last year to advise the country’s men’s and women’s Olympic rugby squads on leadership and strategy. The invitation was made by South Africa-based rugby coach and MSD graduate, Paul Treu, who was appointed to the Japanese rugby sevens coaching team as a consultant last July.

Sturges, who has more than 25 years’ leadership and coaching experience, spent over a week at the rugby sevens training camp in Oita, where she gave high-level strategic advice to Treu, the team’s high performance director, Kensuke Iwabuchi, and women’s team manager, Lesley McKenzie.

“There’s a powerful determination to succeed among the Japanese Olympic rugby squads, and hopefully my contribution has been extremely positive for the coaches and the players,” said Sturges.

“The trip was a fascinating insight into the world of a relatively new Olympic sport. During the time I spent with the teams I carried out high performance diagnostics and analysis, producing a report that will enable the coaches and performance directors to reach for even higher performance levels.”

There’s a powerful determination to succeed among the Japanese Olympic rugby squads, and hopefully my contribution has been extremely positive for the coaches and the players. Stephanie Sturges

Sturges added: “My focus was on leadership messages, relationships between individuals, and developing a strategic game plan that aligns all the teams’ activities, to deliver the performance required to win that gold medal at Tokyo stadium in 2020.”

Japan’s Olympic rugby sevens teams are made up of 15-a-side rugby union club players. The sport made its Olympic debut at Rio 2016, where Fiji beat England in the men’s final and Australia took gold in the women’s tournament.

Japan’s men’s team was defeated by England in the semi-final, before being beaten by South Africa in the bronze medal match. The women’s team were knocked out in the group stages.

As host nation, both Japan’s men’s and women’s teams automatically qualify for the 2020 competition, with 11 other nations joining them via qualification tournaments.