rugby world cup 2019

Asia's first Rugby World Cup set to kick off

15 Comments
By Nick Mulvenney

The leaders of the game have lined up all week proclaiming the ninth Rugby World Cup as "historic" and for once the hyperbole was not misplaced as the sport prepared to take a bold leap out of its comfort zone.

Invented at an English school 196 years ago by a rebellious teenager and beloved mostly in former British colonies and France, rugby union has high ambitions for the first foray of their showpiece tournament into Asia.

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Crown Prince Akishino and World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont attend the opening ceremony. Photo: REUTERS/Issei Kato

With only hosts Japan representing the region, though, thoughts of conquering the world's most populous continent are still a pipe dream, but fans in China and India will at least be able to watch on television for the first time.

Even in Japan, where the rough and tumble 15-man game has always enjoyed high participation numbers, the sports of sumo, baseball and soccer are far too firmly entrenched to be budged in the short-term by the upstart rugby.

What is clear, though, is that the Japanese will embrace the tournament wholeheartedly, as illustrated by the 15,000 fans who turned out to watch Wales train in Kitakyushu on Monday and the 97% of tickets sold.

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Fans gather outside Tokyo Stadium the Rugby World Cup opening match between Japan and Russia on Friday. Photo: REUTERS/Issei Kato

Organizers are hoping Friday's opening match between the hosts and Russia at Tokyo Stadium will set a Japanese viewing record for a single sporting event, surpassing the 25 million who tuned in to watch the Brave Blossoms defeat Samoa in 2015.

That remarkable viewing figure came amid a surge of interest following Japan's defeat of twice champions South Africa at the last World Cup in England, probably the biggest upset in the history of the international game.

Japan have improved since under coach Jamie Joseph but still face a tough task in even finishing in the top two of a pool also featuring Ireland, Scotland and Samoa to reach the quarter-finals for the first time.

And after the last of the 48 matches on Nov 2, the Webb Ellis Cup - named after the 1823 schoolboy who legend says picked up the ball in a game of what would now be called soccer - will almost certainly return to one of the sport's heartlands.

New Zealand's All Blacks, winners of the trophy three times including at the last two tournaments, are favorites and the benchmark by which other teams judge themselves.

They feature in the most highly-anticipated match of the opening weekend when they take on South Africa's Springboks in the 99th edition of a fierce and often bloody rivalry that goes back long before the World Cup.

South Africa, world champions in 1995 just after the end of the Apartheid era and again in 2007, have this year looked like they have the makings of one of the great Springboks sides with a hulking pack of forwards and skill and pace in the backs.

They drew 16-16 with New Zealand in Wellington earlier this year, one of a couple of results - the other a loss to Australia - that resulted in the All Blacks' decade-long reign at the top of the world rankings coming to an end.

New Zealand retain a winning record of nearly 90 percent over the last decade, of course, but the loss of the number one ranking has only added to a perception that this might be the most open World Cup since the tournament began in 1987.

Australia, who have won the World Cup twice and were finalists four years ago, have always peaked at the right time and will have taken great confidence from the record 47-26 win over the All Blacks in Perth last month.

It is in Europe, however, that hopes have been growing quietly that the neutral turf of Japan might provide another champion to match the solitary Northern Hemisphere title won by England in 2003.

Ireland, who open their campaign against former semifinalists Scotland in Yokohama on Sunday, looked to be the strongest challengers a year ago after registering their first two wins over New Zealand and they top the world rankings.

The Irish have tailed off a little this year with England and Six Nations champions Wales taking over the mantle, while three-times finalists France are eternally the game's unknown quantity and cannot be written off however bad things appear.

As for the rest, it is likely to be a case of a couple of upsets that might turn one of the superpowers off course into a quarterfinal path they did not anticipate, and a few fun weeks on tour in a country little-known by many of their fans.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2019.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

15 Comments
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Invented at an English school 196 years ago by a rebellious teenager 

William Webb Ellis is a total myth. He existed but had nothing to do with inventing the game.

Rugby Football and Association Football emerged as codified games in parallel.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Good luck to Japan tonite!

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Of course it’s a myth, so what?

Look forward to the first match later this morning, just hope ITV don’t ruin it with adverts!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Go Go Brave Blossoms! Crush the Russians tonight!! 60-0!

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

Best of luck Japan.

sumo, baseball and soccer are far too firmly entrenched

It's certainly the case with the last two. Considering how Japan are the hosts, it's disappointing how interest in rugby is vertually nonexistent in this country. I happened to mention to several people this week that the RWC would kick off on Friday. The response. "ヘエ~そう?" No doubt the Goromaru phenomenon has died. Well, we'll see.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I hope that Russia can win this game,though this is the only chance for Japan to win a game in the whole tournament.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

I hope that Russia can win this game,though this is the only chance for Japan to win a game in the whole tournament.

Hmmm... what's your problem?

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

I hope that Russia can win this game,though this is the only chance for Japan to win a game in the whole tournament.

Well it certainly isn't a chance for Russia.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I hope that Russia can win this game,though this is the only chance for Japan to win a game in the whole tournament.

Japan are no mugs in rugby these days. They'll beat Samoa, and they'll give Scotland a test. Tonight is must-win though.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I seriously doubt that they can defeat Scotland,this year the Scots have a pretty decent team.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Japan will win the cup.

Brace yourself for the shock of the century.

Nobody expected the nadeshiko to win the world cup and they did.

Go Go Brave Blossom

Ganbare Nippon.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Japan will win the cup.

Lolololololololololoololololololol

Thanks. Nice joke!!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Japan will win the cup.

Loss likely that Japan will win this game - perhaps just need another three points to make sure, but do not look strong enough to win the whole thing, not by a long way.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japan will win the cup.

Brace yourself for the shock of the century.

Nobody expected the nadeshiko to win the world cup and they did.

Go Go Brave Blossom

Ganbare Nippon

Japan doesn’t stand a chance at winning this World Cup. Nadeshiko plays football, no comparison.

Russia, is one of lower ranked teams and gave Japan problems. Every other team ranked above Japan will give them a lot more problems. I want Japan to do well though but the reality is teams like New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Ireland, England and France are just too strong for the current Japanese team. Japan got thumped in the recent pre World Cup warm game against the Springboks.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Japan doesn’t stand a chance at winning this World Cup. Nadeshiko plays football, no comparison.

Yes, well, congrats to Japan on winning their first game!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

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