There’s been plenty of drama at the Rugby World Cup in the last few days. The deadly Typhoon Hagibis struck; games were cancelled; there were threats of court action; and then it was all back on again.
Japan’s Brave Blossoms, who’d days earlier had waded through knee-deep water to get to training, beat Scotland 28 – 21 to gain a berth in the quarter-finals, making history along the way. It’s the first time an Asian team has made it past pool play, and they did it in a fashion that had commentators comparing their team to the All Blacks.
Through the lens of New Zealand sports reporting we learn that Japan has whole-heartedly embraced our national sport, and our national team. But is that just polish applied for the event?
RNZ’s rugby reporter Joe Porter says it’s not.
He tells Sharon Brettkelly on The Detail today that despite rugby only being the fifth most popular sport in the country, it has the full support of locals.
“Ninety-eight percent of each game is sold out.
“There are pockets of tourists but [the crowd] at every single game is mostly Japanese.”
Porter says once seated, the crowd cheers for both sides, but especially likes to support the underdog.
He says the new-found love of the sport is reflected not just at the games themselves.
Sports bars aren’t as common in Japan as they are in New Zealand, but when the rugby is on, they’re busy.
“The first three bars I tried to get in, I couldn’t.
“I showed up an hour before each game, and they were packed.”
As for the love of the All Blacks, Porter says it’s reached a fever pitch during this world cup.
“The All Blacks are Japan’s second favourite team. Everywhere you go there are All Blacks jerseys,” says Porter.
Typhoon Hagibis has struck violently and left just as quickly, with Porter saying authorities did an amazing job to restore the Scotland-Japan venue to playing quality and get public transport up and running again.
He says once the typhoon had passed, inspectors raced to Tokyo’s Yokohama Stadium to make sure it was safe and intact for rugby games to resume.
He says local rugby fans attending the game were respectful of the tragedy, and their spirits have not been dampened.
“You would never get a better atmosphere at a rugby ground, and you wouldn’t get a better atmosphere in a pub.”
The Brave Blossoms acknowledged the devastation and embraced what had happened. There were tears from Japanese fans.
“They really wanted to put on a performance for all of Japan, not just for themselves,” says Porter.
He says after Japan’s win, the shouts from fans were so loud you could’ve heard them in New Zealand.
Listen to today’s podcast for a real insight into how rugby is changing Japan.
Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.