Sat, Sep 28, 2019 - Page 16 News List

Teams adopt Japanese spirit at World Cup

Agencies, TOKYO and OSAKA, Japan

Italy bow to the crowd after their Pool B win against Canada at the Rugby World Cup in the Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium in Japan on Thursday.

Photo: AFP

All 20 teams have had a taste of Rugby World Cup action and there was a one-day pause in the tournament yesterday, with some sides relaxing while others were preparing for the three games today.

The tournament has taken on a distinctly “made in Japan” flavor, with teams engaging in local customs from bowing deeply to the crowd after games to donning full Japanese outfits.

New Zealand, Italy, England and Wales are among the teams who instantly made new friends by bowing deeply to supporters after games, echoing a gesture seen millions of times a day in Japan.

“I guess we just want to try to be respectful to the Japanese people and also thank them for their support,” All Blacks flanker Matt Todd said.

England wing Ruaridh McConnochie said that in addition to bowing, they had also taken a leaf out of the Japanese soccer team’s book by cleaning up the dressing room after games.

“We noticed that Japanese sports sides will leave the changing room very clean and we are trying to do the same here,” McConnochie said.

World Rugby awarded the World Cup to Japan in a bid to spread the gospel of the game in the country, where baseball and soccer dominate TV audiences.

The tournament is being billed in Japan as the “opportunity of a lifetime” to watch the world’s best players and fans have turned out in the droves.

The cultural respect goes both ways, and Japanese fans have “adopted” visiting teams, buying their replica shirts and gamely trying to sing their national anthems.

A video of Japanese children performing the New Zealand haka for the All Blacks went viral.

“I don’t think I’ve seen this anywhere else — the people of the host nation wearing the jersey of the visiting team — the Springbok badge,” South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus said.

Samoa captain Chris Vui said: “The boys ... are loving it here in Japan, the lovely fans here and the Japanese people — they are bloody awesome.”

Some teams have chosen unusual ways to celebrate Japanese culture. A video of Canada’s players jumping off the team bus in Japanese yukata (bathing robes) and ninja-style headbands exploded on social media.

ARGENTINA, TONGA

For the first game today, Mario Ledesma sent a message to his Argentina squad by dropping arguably the most influential player and the former captain for their game against Tonga.

The coach benched flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez and hooker Agustin Creevy without any ego-soothing explanations as to why.

In the days since their dramatic 23-21 loss to France, his approach has been all about rebuilding the squad dynamic rather than pandering to the wounded pride of big-name players.

“The message hasn’t changed, not just from this staff, but from any the Pumas have ever had. The key thing in wearing the Pumas’ shirt is to do your best,” Ledesma said. “Nobody can take it for granted. Everyone who’s worn this shirt knows it. That’s the name of the game.”

JAPAN, IRELAND

In Shizuoka, the hosts face Ireland in the second game, with Japan speedster Kotaro Matsushima, or “Ferrari” for his game-one exploits, facing a “three-tonne truck” in Jacob Stockdale.

After Matsushima left his Russia opponents for dead to lead Japan with a hat-trick in the tournament opener, coach Jamie Joseph likened his pacey match winner to the luxury Italian sports car.

“Well he’s big, so a speedy truck I would say. A two or three-metric tonne truck,” Matsushima told a news conference when asked what he would compare Ireland’s No. 11 to.

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