CAPE TOWN – While they maybe can’t say “move over soccer and baseball” just yet, rugby has gained massive popularity in Japan, according to Japan’s consul-general Yasushi Naito.
At the Cape Times Breakfast yesterday, Naito, speaking about the build-up to the Rugby World Cup in Japan later this year, told how the sport had grown in that country.
And, of course, he didn’t fail to mention “that” upset victory by Japan at the 2015 edition in England.
With only 50 days to go until the spectacle, which kicks off on September 20 when the hosts open proceedings against Russia, the gathering held by the Cape Times addressed all matters concerning the World Cup.
The discussions were led by award-winning sports writer and Independent Media head of sport, Mark Keohane.
Stormers players Dillyn Leyds and Scarra Ntubeni and World Cup-winning Springboks James Dalton and Chester Williams, members of a panel, gave their insights and predictions for the first World Cup to be hosted by a non-major rugby nation. Springbok Gio Aplon featured as a guest speaker.
Williams and Dalton were able to offer perspectives as players who’ve been there, done that, when it comes to lifting the Webb Ellis Cup, while Williams, head coach at UWC, also discussed the impact varsity-level rugby had had at upper tiers of the sport.
UWC were elevated to the Varsity Cup for the first time earlier this year, and nowadays you cannot discuss Springbok or UWC rugby without making new sensation Herschel Jantjies the main talking point.
Jantjies scored a brace to help sink the Wallabies in the Boks’ Rugby Championship opener at Ellis Park, and against the All Blacks in Wellington at the weekend produced a moment of brilliance to score the match-saving try to secure the draw.
That result not only did a lot to make the bookies think twice before putting the Kiwis down as overwhelming favourites for their meeting with the Boks at the World Cup, but reinforced the notion that this World Cup is going to be the most open one yet.
Leyds added to that by saying he expected Wales to spring a surprise or two against participants in September, while Ntubeni went through the hooker stocks the Boks have at their disposal.
Gio Aplon, having spent time with Top League side Toyota Verblitz in Japan, gave handy tips on Japanese culture, and told of Japanese fans’ support for the AIG-sponsored All Blacks.
We’ll have to wait it out to see who’ll be crowned the world’s No 1 rugby team in East Asia, but if Naito’s words are anything to go by, Japan - though a small rugby nation - are as excited about competing in the event as any of the traditional powerhouses.@WynonaLouw