The Land of the Rising Sun – the first time that Asia has hosted a Rugby World Cup and what a tournament it has been so far. From unique fans and cultures to underdogs and unidentifiable foods – we’ve had it all. As we reach the final pool games and teams battle it out for points and their place in the quarter-finals, the odds on Rugby World Cup winner haven’t changed with New Zealand still the outright favourite. What are the major talking points from Japan?
1. Underdogs and Upsets
It happens every World Cup. You had Fiji upsetting Wales in 2007, Tonga beating France in 2011 and Japan defying the odds over South Africa in 2015. The hosts have done it again this year – this time beating Ireland.
The Cherry Blossoms went in at the break losing 12-9 but a remarkable comeback saw the host nation claim a 19-12 victory. Not only that, but Japan recorded their first ever win over the Emerald Isle in Test rugby, while Joe Schmidt’s side lost to a non-tier 1 nation for the first time ever at a Rugby World Cup. With three wins from three games, the Cherry Blossoms top the table in Pool A and are favourites to progress.
2. The Weather
We all knew when Japan were set to host the Rugby World Cup that the weather would no doubt play havoc with fixtures, with the tournament coinciding with typhoon season. Super typhoon Hagibis has already caused two fixtures to be cancelled: Italy v New Zealand and England v France, and it’s set to continue causing disruption over the coming days.
Any games that are cancelled due to the weather conditions are classified as scoreless draws, with each team receiving two points. But this could have a dramatic impact on the final pool standings. For example, in Pool A, Ireland require a bonus-point against Samoa to ensure they reach the quarter-finals and their match could well be in doubt; while third-placed Scotland face leaders Japan, with only the top-two progressing to the quarter-finals.
3. The Fans
Hosting such a prestigious tournament for the first time could have been daunting, but for Japanese rugby fans, it’s been an experience they have relished and will never forget. The whole country has gone rugby crazy and the local fans have been the talk of the tournament – from turning up in full kits, to learning all the words to every national anthem. They’ve even been praised for clearing up rubbish at the stadiums after matches have been played and more remarkably, Superfan Bak-san has even made it his mission to paint every single team’s shirt on his body.
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>If you haven’t already read about him this is Bak-san, a famous Japanese rugby fan who has pledged to body paint himself in all 20 teams’ colours over the course of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/RWC2019?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#RWC2019</a> Today he is supporting Uruguay 🇺🇾! <a href=”https://t.co/LRPNTcKU3q”>pic.twitter.com/LRPNTcKU3q</a></p>— Fraser Japan (@fraserjapan) <a href=”https://twitter.com/fraserjapan/status/1176732054559420417?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>September 25, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>
4. Standard of officiating
Almost as disastrous as playing conditions has been the standard of officiating. From the opening weekend to this current point in time, the officials have been in the spotlight as much as, if not more than, the players. Prior to the tournament starting, Head of Referees Alain Rolland said there would be a clamp down on how head injuries are treated, due to their severity: “We’ve made it very clear as to what the high tackle framework is, how it would operate and how it is there to protect them. Everything we do is to protect the players.”
However, the performances of referees during the tournament have been described as “feeble” and “failures”. With five red cards already distributed, this year’s World Cup lays claim to the most dismissals and we are still only at the pool stage – there are plenty of games left to play. What will be said or done going forward?