John Kirwan (rugby)

Sir John Kirwan
Full name John James Patrick Kirwan
Date of birth (1964-12-16) 16 December 1964
Place of birth Auckland, New Zealand
Height 1.91 m (6 ft 3 in)
Weight 100 kg (15 st 10 lb)
School De La Salle College
Occupation(s) Rugby union coach
Rugby league career
Position Wing
Professional clubs
Years Club / team Caps (points)
199596 Auckland Warriors 35 (52)
Rugby union career
Playing career
Position Wing
New Zealand No. 854
Professional / senior clubs
Years Club / team Caps (points)
Provincial/State sides
Years Club / team Caps (points)
1983–94 Auckland 142
National team(s)
Years Club / team Caps (points)
1984–94 New Zealand 63 (143)
Coaching career
Years Club / team
Blues (assistant)
Italy (assistant)
correct as of 18 November 2013.

Sir John James Patrick Kirwan KNZM MBE (born 16 December 1964) is a New Zealand rugby union coach and former player of both rugby union and rugby league. Kirwan is the former head coach of the Blues in Super Rugby, with a playing career that featured 35 tries in 63 tests for New Zealand, Kirwan is one of the highest try scorers in international rugby union history. He also played for the Auckland Warriors in their first two seasons. In recent years, he has spoken openly about his battles with depression and been honoured for his services to mental health.


A grandson of Jack Kirwan, who represented New Zealand in rugby league, John Kirwan was educated at De La Salle College, Mangere East in Auckland.[1]

Playing career

Rugby union

Kirwan played for Marist Brothers Old Boys RFC and Auckland domestically, winning 142 caps with the latter during an era when the side dominated the NPC and Ranfurly Shield.

From 1985 to 1989 he played in Italy, at Benetton Treviso. He finished his rugby union playing career with NEC in Japan.

Kirwan made 63 test matches as an All Black from 1984 until 1994. Kirwan played a major role in the All Blacks’ 23 test unbeaten run from 1987 to 1990, scoring 10 tries in five tests against Wales and Australia during 1988. In all he scored 35 test tries for the All Blacks, and 67 tries in total for appearances with the All Blacks, the latter which continues to be the New Zealand record. His total of 199 first class tries remains a New Zealand record.

Kirwan and David Kirk were the only All Blacks not to join the "rebel" Cavaliers team that traveled to apartheid-era South Africa after a New Zealand court held that the All Blacks' playing in that country would be inconsistent with their mission of promoting rugby. As a result, he and Kirk were the only ones not temporarily barred from playing with the All Blacks upon their return.

Rugby league

At age 30 Kirwan signed for the newly formed rugby league club Auckland Warriors for the 1995 ARL season with a mutual option on 1996.[2] Playing on the wing,[3] he was a staunch opponent of the ARL during the Super League war.[4] Kirwan was the 1996 Auckland Warriors season's top try scorer.

Coaching career

In 2001, Kirwan was an assistant coach with the Auckland Blues, his first professional coaching role. In 2002, Kirwan moved to Italy to become the coach of the Italian national rugby team, which under his guidance recorded two victories over Wales in 2003 and Scotland in 2004. After a winless 2005 Six Nations campaign, he was relieved of his managerial duties on 8 April 2005.

At the start of 2007 Kirwan was appointed the coach of the Japan national rugby union team. Interviewed by the Daily Yomiuri, Kirwan said: "The level of rugby has improved greatly in Japan in the last ten years and they did well at the last World Cup. But their recent performances at national level have [not been good]. I want to find that 'Samurai Spirit' that all the players can identify with. And then that style of rugby can start to spread downwards throughout the country." On 9 April 2007 the national team was featured at their first training camp since Kirwan's appointment in the NHK national news, a sign of the growing expectation and interest in his team. He said in front of the camera: "We want to be the world's fittest team". He added that he wanted Japan to play to its strengths which he believed were speed and agility, and to play rugby that "big men don't like." At the 2007 Rugby World Cup, Japan drew 12–12 with Canada, breaking a 16-year, 13-match losing streak. Kirwan remained head coach of Japan through the 2011 Rugby World Cup. In July 2012, Kirwan was announced as the new coach of the Blues for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. He stepped down from this role in June 2015.

Personal life

Kirwan is married to Fiorella, Lady Kirwan, with three children Francesca, Niko and Luca. Kirwan speaks fluent Italian and good Japanese, a result of a playing career in Italy and coaching career in Japan. Kirwan has openly spoken of his battle with depression, and is actively involved in mental health and depression awareness campaigns in New Zealand. He has written about his depression in the books All Blacks Don't Cry and Stand by Me.[5]

Awards and honours

In the 1989 New Year Honours, Kirwan was appointed as a Member of the Order of the British Empire, for services to rugby.[6]

In the 2007 Queen's Birthday Honours, Kirwan was appointed as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to mental health.[7]

In the 2012 Queen's Birthday and Diamond Jubilee Honours, Kirwan was appointed a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to mental health and rugby.[8]

Also in 2012, Kirwan was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame.


  1. Knight, Lindsay. "John Kirwan". New Zealand Rugby Museum. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
  2. Steve Mascord and Wynne Gray (8 March 1995). "Kirwan switch a coup for Warriors". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
  3. Koslowski, Michael (23 April 1995). "Worrier Kirwan blows one, makes two". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
  4. Mascord, Steve (26 February 1996). "Breakaway club in Paris a possibility for Kirwan". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
  5. Kirwan, John (2010). All Black's don’t cry : a story of hope. North Shore, N.Z.: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-320480-0.
  6. London Gazette (supplement), No. 51580, 30 December 1988. Retrieved 12 January 2013.
  7. "The Queen's Birthday Honours List 2007". New Zealand Honours Lists. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 30 June 2012.
  8. "The Queen's Birthday and Diamond Jubilee Honours List 2012". New Zealand Honours Lists. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 30 June 2012.


Sporting positions
Preceded by
New Zealand Brad Johnstone
Italy National Rugby Union Coach
Succeeded by
France Pierre Berbizier
Preceded by
Japan Osamu Ota (caretaker)
Japan national rugby union coach
Succeeded by
Australia Eddie Jones
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