New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, France and the UK have hosted the Rugby World Cup within the event’s 32-year historical past, however Friday’s curtain-raiser between Japan and Russia — the event’s first recreation on Asian soil — will mark a step into the unknown for the game.
The World Cup runs from September 20 to November 2 and can see 20 groups contest 48 video games at 12 completely different venues. It is the beginning of a year-long interval during which Japan finds itself on the heart of the sporting world’s gaze, with the rugby occasion a precursor to the 2020 Olympics.
“I believe the world can be taught a lot from Japan,” Michael Leitch, captain of the nation’s rugby workforce, advised CNN Sport earlier this yr. “They’re so respectful in all the pieces they do.”
These days, the Courageous Blossoms repeatedly go toe-to-toe with rugby’s acquainted pressure, regardless of Japanese internationals having not but been granted absolutely skilled standing.
So how did the game discover a foothold in Japan? And what can we anticipate from a World Cup in Asia?
Japan’s rugby increase
Take a look at a map of established rugby-playing nations, and Japan stands by itself as the game’s major Asian outpost. Rugby’s origins within the Far East date again to English affect within the late 19th century, and the game started to develop via the 1900s because of universities and, later, massive industries.
Immediately, the High League — Japan’s semiprofessional rugby league that provides most of its worldwide gamers — is comprised of company groups, particularly from iron, metal, auto-making, and manufacturing industries which make use of the gamers.
“For those who’re a manufacturing unit employee and doing eight-hour shifts, how do you then preserve occupied in these compounds and the way do you get bodily train after working in fairly arduous manufacturing unit settings?” explains Helen Macnaughtan, chair of the Japan Analysis Heart at SOAS College of London.
“When you concentrate on the place Japanese concepts on employment and teamworking have grown from, these core values of dedication and loyalty and inclusivity have been fairly sturdy in company historical past in Japan … rugby’s progress undoubtedly springs from that.
“Gamers are recruited now, in fact, for his or her sporting prowess, however as a result of it is semi-professional, they may nonetheless have a job within the firm. It would simply be a number of hours a day, however then more often than not will probably be spent coaching.”
Ticket gross sales for the World Cup have been wholesome, with 85% of the 1.eight million accessible bought by the beginning of August.
The prospect of rugby’s showpiece occasion being held in Japan has additionally piqued curiosity amongst overseas followers. It’s anticipated that over 600,000 will descend for the event, and gamers have spoken extremely of Japan as a rugby host.
“One factor I can say is that the persons are actually welcoming, and the hospitality was superior,” Italy worldwide Sebastian Negri, who performed two assessments in Japan final yr, just lately advised CNN Sport.
“It was simply good to expertise a distinct tradition. The World Cup’s going to be very, very particular. It will be completed in a Japanese method, for certain, utterly completely different. They will do it in their very own method. However it’s actually thrilling, and I am simply buzzing to recover from there.”
The nation has been bracing for an inflow of supporters.
“The hospitality in Japan is the very best on the earth,” stated Leitch. “You stroll into a store they usually say howdy and thanks — simply the small issues right here make a distinction.
“They have a terrific normal amongst society, and everybody abides by it. There are not any written guidelines or something like that, however, you understand, there is no garbage bins right here as a result of everybody takes their garbage house.”
Scan via the squad record and you will find gamers harking from New Zealand, Australia, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, and South Africa.
“From my private perspective, I hope that [the team’s visibility during the World Cup] does encourage extra open debate and a extra open outlook on points equivalent to race inequality and immigration in Japan,” says Macnaughtan.
“These are all social points which were effervescent below the floor in Japan and overtly debated in Japan and South Korea for many years now — attitudes to race and attitudes to blended race youngsters, immigration, equality and inclusion.
“I believe if Japan can someway leverage the Courageous Blossoms to spark some debate about these crucial points, I believe that might be a terrific factor.”
Time to shine
As for Leitch, he is seen his numerous workforce thrive on the world stage and break into the highest 10 of World Rugby’s rankings for the primary time.
“There isn’t any particular therapy in direction of this participant or that participant,” says the quantity eight, who himself has a Kiwi father and Fijian mom.
“All of us exit and we eat collectively, and we combine and mingle. There isn’t any separation, so I suppose it is accepting that this workforce is multicultural and simply go together with it.”
What drives the gamers to compete at a world stage, stated Joseph, is a want to play towards the world’s greatest groups on the world’s largest rugby venues.
And now that chance is coming to their doorstep.
In a pool alongside Scotland, Eire, Russia and Samoa — and with a military of house followers behind them — the Courageous Blossoms have their greatest ever probability of progressing to the knockout phases of the World Cup for the primary time.