John Kirwan (rugby)

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.

Sir John Kirwan
Birth nameJohn James Patrick Kirwan
Date of birth (1964-12-16) 16 December 1964
Place of birthAuckland, New Zealand
Height1.91 m (6 ft 3 in)
Weight100 kg (15 st 10 lb)
SchoolDe La Salle College
Notable relative(s)Niko Kirwan (son)
John Ah Kuoi (brother-in-law)[1]
SpouseFiorella Kirwan
Occupation(s)Rugby union coach
Rugby league career
Position(s) Wing
Senior career
Years Team Apps (Points)
199596 Auckland Warriors 35 (52)
Rugby union career
Position(s) Wing
All Black No. 854
Senior career
Years Team Apps (Points)
Provincial / State sides
Years Team Apps (Points)
1983–94 Auckland 142 ()
National team(s)
Years Team Apps (Points)
1984–94 New Zealand 63 (143)
Teams coached
Years Team
Blues (assistant)
Italy (assistant)
Correct as of 18 November 2013

He scored 35 tries in 63 tests for New Zealand, making him one of the highest try scorers in international rugby union history, and was part of the New Zealand team that won the first Rugby World Cup in 1987. He also played rugby league for the Auckland Warriors in their first two seasons. He is the former head coach of the Blues in Super Rugby, and the Japan and Italy national teams.

In recent years, he has spoken openly about his battles with depression and been honoured for his services to mental health.

Early life and family

Kirwan was born in Auckland on 16 December 1964, the son of Patrick and Patricia Madeline Kirwan.[2][3] He was educated at De La Salle College in Auckland.[3]

His paternal grandfather, Jack Kirwan, was a gifted wing three-quarter/five-eighths originally from Reefton who was in the same Hawke's Bay side as All Blacks George Nepia, and the Brownlie brothers in the early 1920s and when they lifted the Ranfurly Shield from Wellington in 1922. Jack was also in the Hawke's Bay–Poverty Bay side that played the Springboks in 1921.[4] Jack later went to Auckland in 1924 where he was captain of the Marist Brothers Old Boys senior team [5] and was included for the Auckland side that year making 10 appearances. He later converted to rugby league in 1995 where he represented New Zealand.

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, club where he won the Italian championship in 1989. One of his partners in the Italian team was the All Black Craig Green, Kirwan's teammate in the 1987 World Cup won by the New Zealanders.

After his spell in rugby league, he finished his rugby union playing career with NEC in Japan from 1997-1999.

Kirwan played 63 test matches for New Zealand from 1984 until 1994. Kirwan played a major role in the All Blacks’ 23 test unbeaten run from 1987 to 1990, including winning the 1987 World Cup. He scored 10 tries in five tests against Wales and Australia during 1988. In all he scored 35 test tries for New Zealand. He also scored 67 tries in all appearances with the All Blacks (including non test matches) which is still the national record. His total of 199 first class tries remains a New Zealand record.

In 1986 Kirwan and David Kirk were the only All Blacks not to join the 'rebel' New Zealand 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 for 1996.[6] Playing on the wing,[7] he was a staunch opponent of the ARL during the Super League war.[8] Kirwan was the Warriors' top try scorer in the 1996 season.

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.[9]

In 2016 he had his DNA heritage investigated for a television programme, which found a link to the American Kennedy clan.[10]

In 2018, Niko made his All Whites debut.[11]

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.[12]

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.[13] In the 2012 Queen's Birthday and Diamond Jubilee Honours, he was promoted to Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to mental health and rugby.[14]

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


  1. John Ah Kuoi at Ah Kuoi Kirwan Insurance
  2. "Patricia Madeline (Pat) Kirwan death notice". New Zealand Herald. 19 February 2019. Retrieved 19 February 2019.
  3. Knight, Lindsay. "John Kirwan". New Zealand Rugby Museum. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
  4. "In Southern Hawkes Bay". NZ Truth. 17 March 1923. p. 9. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  5. "Rugby Competitions". New Zealand Herald. 24 June 1924. p. 6. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  6. Steve Mascord and Wynne Gray (8 March 1995). "Kirwan switch a coup for Warriors". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
  7. Koslowski, Michael (23 April 1995). "Worrier Kirwan blows one, makes two". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
  8. Mascord, Steve (26 February 1996). "Breakaway club in Paris a possibility for Kirwan". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
  9. Kirwan, John (2010). All Black's don’t cry : a story of hope. North Shore, N.Z.: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-320480-0.
  10. "John Kirwan unlocks family secrets on DNA Detectives". Stuff (Fairfax). 15 November 2017.
  11. "John Kirwan's son Niko set to be named in All Whites squad - reports". Newshub. Retrieved 10 March 2018.
  12. London Gazette (supplement), No. 51580, 30 December 1988. Retrieved 12 January 2013.
  13. "The Queen's Birthday Honours List 2007". New Zealand Honours Lists. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 30 June 2012.
  14. "The Queen's Birthday and Diamond Jubilee Honours List 2012". New Zealand Honours Lists. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Archived from the original on 4 June 2012. Retrieved 30 June 2012.


  • The outdoors cookbook: John Kirwan & Annabel Langbein’s favourite barbecue and grill recipes (1989) ISBN 0-908757-06-9
  • Kirwan: running on instinct (1992) ISBN 1-86947-107-5
  • Why I am: a bag full of wisdom to take on the road (c1999) ISBN 1-86953-440-9
  • All Blacks Don’t Cry: A Story of Hope (2010) ISBN 978-0-14-320480-0
Sporting positions
Preceded by
Brad Johnstone
Italy National Rugby Union Coach
Succeeded by
Pierre Berbizier
Preceded by
Osamu Ota (caretaker)
Japan national rugby union coach
Succeeded by
Eddie Jones
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.