Ex-Australian rugby player returns to Japan as coach

The Yomiuri Shimbun
NEC Green Rockets Tokatsu coach Scott Fardy, second from right, talks to players on Dec. 2 in Abiko, Chiba Prefecture.

Ten years after opting to stay in Japan to help the city where he was playing rugby after it was ravaged by an earthquake and tsunami, former Australian national team member Scott Fardy is back in Japan.

Fardy, who was playing for the Kamaishi Seawaves in Iwate Prefecture when the Great East Japan Earthquake hit in March 2011, has returned to take the reins as coach of the Chiba Prefecture-based NEC Green Rockets Tokatsu of the Japan league.

When the earthquake struck, the Australian government asked citizens living in the region if they wanted to evacuate and return home. But Fardy stayed to help in the relief effort by unloading supplies from trucks arriving from all over Japan.

“Obviously I wasn’t suffering at all, I thought I can be of some help,” Fardy said in an interview at NEC’s ground in Abiko, Chiba Prefecture.

Fardy said the disaster changed his outlook on life. “I guess I thought life is fleeting. It can be over very quickly.”

Given all he went through, it was not hard to decide to return to Japan when the chance came up following his retirement as a player in June.

“I love the country,” said Fardy, who played three seasons as a forward with the Seawaves from 2009. “I’ve always loved it here. I knew I was coming at some point.”

When introduced to a reporter, he playfully said in Japanese, “I come from Iwate.”

Fardy said he joined Kamaishi at a time when he had no professional contracts and “was probably at the lowest in my career. I got an opportunity to stay as a professional rugby player, so I was very grateful.”

On March 11, 2011, Fardy was in his apartment about eight kilometers inland when he felt a powerful shaking. The ensuing tsunami that swamped the coastal part of the city swept away places he often went to, like a local sento public bath and a sushi shop.

The next day, there were explosions at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Because of the power outage and lack of phone reception, it took about a week for Australian Embassy officials to come to Kamaishi, which suffered more than 1,100 deaths, to check on him and see if he wanted to return to Australia.

“I had been in Kamaishi for two years already and felt always looked after by the people of Kamaishi,” Fardy said. “We have friends there obviously going through tougher times than I had. So we felt we couldn’t just leave them there.”

Making use of his powerful 1.97-meter frame, Fardy helped unload relief supplies in disaster-stricken areas. As a sign of how he had ingrained himself in the community, people who had lost their own homes came up and asked him if he was alright. “It was amazing and moving,” he said.

While torn over whether it was appropriate to play rugby at this time, he played in a match held three months after the quake. The team was dealt a crushing defeat, but the Kamaishi people came out to support the team by waving big fishing banners symbolic of the coastal city. “When I look back, it was something that helped the town get rebuilt,” Fardy said.

The next year, Fardy joined the Brumbies of Super Rugby, the top league in the southern hemisphere, and appeared for the Wallabies at the 2015 World Cup.

Rugby fever swept up Japan when it hosted the 2019 World Cup, and Kamaishi was one of the venues. Fardy, who had retired from the Australian national team, held a rugby clinic in the city, where he was surrounded by a crowd of children seeking his autograph. It was the last time he was in Japan before returning in September.

Fardy’s link with Kamaishi played a role in its becoming the host town for the Australian team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

After retiring as a player in June this year, Fardy accepted the offer to coach NEC.

“I knew I had to take up the challenge,” he said. “I didn’t want to regret not doing anything.”

Japan’s revamped rugby union league, now called League One, kicks off its season next month. Given his experience, Fardy feels well prepared for the endeavor.

“The people of Kamaishi have shown me the power of solidarity and compassion to overcome tough times,” Fardy said.

His second career will be his way of saying thanks.