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.
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.”
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.
Asked if he agreed with the Ferrari nickname, Matsushima said that defense coach Scott Hansen had some friendly advice for him.
“Ferrari’s are high maintenance,” he joked.
NAMIBIA, S AFRICA
In the third game, Namibia face a daunting task, with 70 percent of their squad being amateurs — including loose forward Thomasau Forbes, who has taken time off from his job in a bank to play in Japan.
The 30-year-old is to make his World Cup debut against South Africa at the City of Toyota Stadium. He juggles rugby with his day job, something that requires an extra dose of commitment.
“I’ve got a good relationship with my work, so for the past two months they were quite lenient with me leaving when I needed to,” Forbes told reporters ahead of the Pool B clash. “I wake up at 5:30am for a morning session in the gym and finish at 8:30am. I get to work at 9am, work throughout lunch, sometimes eating at my desk. I finish at 4:30pm and go back to the field again. Then back home at 8pm maybe, eat, pack my bag for the next day and sleep.”
South Africa’s professionals are expected to make short work of their African neighbors.
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