Kirwan Calls It Quits
All Blacks legend John Kirwan Thursday said he is stepping down as coach of Japan after a dismal World Cup where they failed to win a game for the fifth successive tournament.
Kirwan, 46, whose ambitious plans for the Brave Blossoms were dashed with a bottom-placed finish in Pool A, said he will not seek a new contract when his current agreement expires in December.
The Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) said it was looking for a "suitable successor" to Kirwan as they build towards hosting Asia's first World Cup in 2019.
"I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with Japan Rugby and will always be very proud of the improvements and achievements we have made over the past five years," Kirwan said in a statement released by the JRFU.
"I will always follow the JRFU with interest and remain very grateful for the opportunity to serve Japan."
Since taking over in early 2007, the charismatic former Italy coach won 31 Tests, lost 22 and drew two with Japan, as he steered them to four consecutive Asian Five Nations titles and their maiden Pacific Nations Cup trophy in July.
But the 1987 World Cup-winning winger had signalled his intention to leave after a miserable end to Japan's campaign in New Zealand, when they threw away a late lead to draw with Canada in their final game.
The Brave Blossoms, whose sole victory at the World Cup was in 1991 against Zimbabwe, also lost to France and Tonga, dashing Kirwan's target of registering two wins at the New Zealand tournament.
Kirwan had also laid out lofty plans of pushing Japan, currently ranked 15th, into the top eight rugby nations by 2015, and even reaching the final at their home World Cup four years later.
JRFU chairman Tatsuzo Yabe said despite Japan's leap forward under Kirwan, the team should look "severely" at the World Cup result and needed to make "tons of improvements".
"Although his achievements since he joined the JRFU was great, it is also true that we must face the result of the RWC 2011 frankly and severely," Yabe said in a statement released in English.
"There still are tons of improvements we have to make... It is our paramount challenge to review our current high performance structure thoroughly immediately," he added.
Team captain Takashi Kikutani, who paid emotional tribute to Kirwan after the Canada match, insisted Kirwan's reign had been a success despite the World Cup failure.
"It was disappointing that we came up short in the recent Rugby World Cup. However, under the leadership of John Kirwan, the Japan national team have grown in the last four years," Kikutani said.
"He was the great coach and mentor. And I believe we have been a wonderful team."