Six weeks of tumultuous bone crunching, rib bruising, arm wrestling physical sport of a caliber that rugby enthusiasts the world over have seldom seen before, when 20 nations, whittled down from a greater number of rugby playing Countries the World over, locked horns to test their skills, strategies, and brute force against one another, to [...]


A Japanese Rugby World Cup 2019


Six weeks of tumultuous bone crunching, rib bruising, arm wrestling physical sport of a caliber that rugby enthusiasts the world over have seldom seen before, when 20 nations, whittled down from a greater number of rugby playing Countries the World over, locked horns to test their skills, strategies, and brute force against one another, to ascertain who amongst them would be crowned Rugby Champions of the World for 2019. The IRB and The JRFU, as Japan was the host nation, were entrusted with the unenviable responsibility of organising and executing this massive task of ensuring that the whole exercise would go off without a hitch, which it did, except for the raging interference of Mother Nature in the form of Cyclone Hagibis, which made its chaotic presence frighteningly felt throughout most of Japan, in the second week of October, and forced the cancellation of 3 of the scheduled pool matches; Canada-Namibia and New Zealand-Italy in pool ‘B’, and a key match in pool “C” England-France. These were all to be played on Saturday, the 12th of October, the day the cyclone clobbered the rugby stadiums.

The Sunday games were also under a cloud, but due to the frantic efforts of the Organizers and the ground staff, they escaped cancellations, inclusive of the key game of Scotland vs Japan, (‘The Brave Blossoms’). A sour note was sadly, however, struck by the Scottish Rugby Authorities before the match, when they threatened to take the IRB to Courts, if their game against Japan was not played on Sunday, and they were forced to accept the result as a draw, because, then they would be effectively out of the Quarters, having to share 4 points with Japan in their pool and be relegated to 3rd position, behind Ireland. But thankfully, that was not to be, as they played, but still lost and were pushed to 3rd place (poetic Justice?), and were effectively out of the running to the delight of the thunderous cheers of the flag waving, wildly screaming 70,000 Japanese supporters packed into the stadium. The ‘Brave Blossoms’ would, for the first time in Rugby World Cup History, get into the quarterfinals of the World Cup. They would also be the 1st Asian Nation to do so.

South Africa (the Springboks) eventually ran out World Champs, beating England 32-12 in a thrilling Cup Final. Not because it was a closely contested game, but because England were tipped to win. Having beaten favorites New Zealand (the All Blacks) 19-7, in one of the semifinals the previous week, which was considered to be the upset of the tournament. That the Springboks defeated England was a greatly welcomed result by most rugby playing enthusiasts the world over, other than those in the UK. The reason being that England, having beaten the tournament favorites, went on a “verbal scoring spree” just before the Cup Final, alleging that they were being spied on at their practice sessions, insinuating that the “Boks” were behind it and resorting to unsporting tactics. And again, their coach Eddie Jones broadcast that England had been preparing for the last 4 years for this moment of victory, and could not lose. Insinuating again, they would beat the Boks and win the World Cup; was it English arrogance?

It was obvious to most followers of the Rugby World Cup that their win over the All Blacks had gone to their heads. Instead of taking that victory with humility, the Coach and supporting staff began blowing their trumpets, as if they had already won the World Cup. Even the English supporters, both in Japan and back in the UK, acted and behaved likewise, judging from their sporting columns and the comments that were being sprouted. In contrast, the Springboks Head Coach Erasmus commented with diffidence that England obviously had the upper hand in the match, as the English coach was far more experienced and the English players were very talented, as evidenced in the previous week’s match, but that the Boks would do their best to upset them, and upset them they did, in flamboyant style.

Siya Kolesi the first Black African to captain the “Boks” was at his brilliant best right throughout the tournament and had admiral support from the entire team, especially Faf De Clerk, who was a pain in the butt for the English, Peter Du Toit, Handre Pollard, Mapimpi, Duane Vermeulen, and Cheslin Kolbe the flying winger. The biggest asset for him in the Cup final, however, was his pack, which completely outplayed the English forwards in the Line-outs, Scrums, and the rucks, where they out-jumped, out-shoved, and hammered the English to a standstill. There were instances when a series of set scrums were consecutively won by the Boks and the English were regularly conceding penalties in their inability to counter the Bok pack. It was unimaginable that this was the same side that had beaten the powerful All Blacks, only the previous week. The powerful forward play of Mtwarira, Eben Ebizaleth, Du Toit, Duane Vanmeulen, Francois Louw, Malcolm Marks, and others, who made their opponents, look woefully ineffective and inadequate, were the pick of the lot.

Moving away from the Cup Final and looking at the tournament as a whole, it was exciting to see Japan’s rugby coming of age. Seeing them waltzing into the last 8, but sadly losing finally, to the sheer power of the ultimate winners, the Springboks. On their way to the last 8, the ‘Brave Blossoms’ unexpectedly, beat Ireland and Scotland by healthy margins, much, not only to the delight of their Japanese supporters, but also to the delight of rugby enthusiasts throughout Asia. They showed exceptional skills and determination in all their pool matches. Tackling their opponents to a standstill and attacking with great finesse, flare and imagination, to end up leaders of their pool, ahead of Ireland Scotland Samoa and Russia. Much of the credit should go to their New Zealand coach Jamie Joseph and Michael Leitch the Captain, who put their all into leading from the front, while the sheer ball handling skills, speed, and physical fitness of the entire team was amazing to watch. Japanese rugby has come to stay and we can look forward to many more superb performances from them in the future.

Another pleasing feature of this World Cup was the near capacity crowds that filled most stadiums, despite the inclement weather and the games. The Japanese spectators added to the visiting rugby crowds that thronged the grounds, cheering their sides on vociferously, madly, dressed in the colours of the sides they were supporting, and in varied costumes and fancy dresses. Men, women and children were seen enjoying themselves thoroughly; eating, drinking and singing, in addition to the vociferous supporting of their respective countries. It was a real carnival atmosphere, as most rugby tournaments are the world over. However, the Japanese supporters contributed immensely towards the success of this aspect of the world cup.

A word about the refereeing, which appeared to be below par, particularly, in the pool games, as it was felt that most of the Referees officiating in the pool games were unnecessarily hard on the “ nethi beri” countries such as Georgia, Tonga, Samoa, Namibia, and Uruguay, especially when they played against the bigger named Nations. The infringements that were purported to have been committed by these lesser Countries, when committed by the bigger named Countries, in the same matches, were ignored and not blown, thereby, evidencing unfair and unnecessary bias. This happened in more than a couple of matches. So much so that one ‘felt’ that it was intentional. Was it the new rules of tackling over the shoulders that were creating the confusion? But then, it should have been applied to all and sundry, without exception. Jerome Garces blowing in the Cup final was by far the best refereeing in the whole tournament, while Nigel Owens (Welshman) could have done much better with the whistle in the England-All Blacks semifinal. It is purported that Nigel is ranked as the leading Referee in the world. Both England and the All blacks scored one try a piece and the victory margin was only in the 4 penalties that Owens awarded the English. When a side finds itself being regularly penalized and the other side is not, for the same infringements, it becomes a demotivating factor that affects their performance.

Many Players, Coaches and Officials have decided to hang up their boots at the end of this tournament, and to all of them a sincere thanks for having brought colour and excitement to the game of rugby the world over. New faces will take their places and they will perform as well, or even better, in the years to come, and take the game to even greater heights, while enthusiasts the world over will benefit from these enhanced performances.


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