Springboks / 22 September 2019, 12:10pm / wynona louw
I wouldn’t be surprised if I had to learn that the International Stadium in Yokohama had a capacity of about 200 00.
It’s only a little over 72 000, actually, but experiencing the sky-high World Cup fever in the city would easily have you believing otherwise.
En route to the major World Cup venue, the influx of supporters from every corner and crack into the direction of the stadium was a sight to behold. It was never-ending.
Out of all the moments, one of the things that stood out for me the most was the support from the locals for the South Africa-New Zealand game.
Yes, it was the biggest game of the group stages and massive interest was to be expected, but the vibe and buzz in Yokohama was just a level or two higher than you’d expect from a fairly neutral host nation.
Then again, it is the first Rugby World Cup in Asia.
Still, it didn’t look much different to a game in South Africa would, with more fans donning their hearts on their sleeves, chests and face paint than those without any gear of support.
The Kiwis, though, clearly enjoyed the majority of that support, akin to the Stormers in a Super Rugby game at Newlands while 90 percent of the Bulls supporters were somehow stranded at a musiekfees in Pretoria.
It was that overwhelming, and kind of puzzling, seeing as the Boks had enjoyed such good support building up to their opener.
Don’t get me wrong, there were a few excited locals in green, but the black sea just ran deeper.
The outnumbered Bok supporters made sure that their passion was heard, though.
Nobody would dispute that.
You’d just had to have seen a South African group of fans come close to blocking out TJ Perenara’s intense war cry with their spirited rendition of Olé Olé. Rugby-match like?
That can be debated. The statement they made?
That statement wasn’t exactly followed up by the Boks in terms of a result, unfortunately, but that spirit by the touring South Africans was surely felt.
The buzz in Japan was surely felt. Overall, whether it was a beer tent or merchandise market, Japan sure made it known that the World Cup is here.
It was seen en route to the Land of the Rising Sun during flights, where Emirates, who made the experience for the all the flag bearers from different countries even more special, gave young rugby fans the kind of treatment they’d probably imagine their rugby heroes to experience.
It was seen in hotels, fan zones and restaurants. It was everywhere.
We often hear that the Brighton disaster (for the Boks, that is) changed the game in Japan.
That may be true, but nothing could possibly have done as much for rugby in the country as this World Cup.
You can bet some yen that it won’t be too long before rugby is on their top-three sports list.