Category Archives: Rugby World Cup 2019

HANAZAWA HIKE

In the end, I managed to predict all the correct winners of the quarter finals, but not how large the margin of victories would be. Three of the four games were over long before the final whistle and, as Murphy’s law dictates, the only one I missed watching live was the one that ended up going down to the wire.

The England Australia game was close going into half-time and in the early part of the second half, but when England finally moved through the gears and Australia started to tire, there was only one winner. England went three then four scores clear, running up a joint record margin of victory over their old foes.

Ireland never really got going against New Zealand, who put in an excellent performance that never let the Irish have so much of a sniff of getting into the match. Most people will be tipping the winner of their semi-final with England to go on to win the tournament. They are the only two sides to have come through every game they’ve played as comfortable winners.

Mirroring the 2011 semi-final when a red card for Wales turned the tide in France’s favour, this time it was a French player who got his marching orders and turned the tie in favour of Wales. Man of the match Aaron Wainwright said afterwards that forward Sebastien Vahaamahina’s brutal and senseless elbow to his face “wasn’t that nice” in what was perhaps the understatement of the year. Both Vahaamahina and his teammates will be feeling the sting of that red card long after Wainwright’s face has healed.

Like the New Zealand game, South Africa vs. Japan turned out to be a damp squib. The main reason it was still as close as it was at half-time was due to the Springboks’ failure to finish off good positions. A highly questionable decision to disallow what seemed a perfectly good try just before the interval also helped. Any pretence of parity was swept aside in the second half, however. South Africa were all over Japan’s lineout and their forwards were much too much for the Brave Blossoms to handle. The final score of 26-3 was an accurate reflection of how the match played out.

This should not take anything away from what has been an excellent tournament for Japan. Their wins against Ireland and Scotland were totally deserved and hopefully either the Six Nations or the Rugby Championship will be able to find room for them. Geography is the only major stumbling point.

The reason I didn’t see the Wales France game live was because of a mountain hike that went on longer than anticipated. Hiking up to the top of Mount Hanazawa (Mount Flowerdale) was a rather more complicated matter than expected after the typhoon last week and involved climbing over a lot of fallen trees and slip-sliding down loose earth on the way back down.

With so much dramatic weather in Japan, paths and roads that appear to be usable on map applications are often not, so you should always be prepared to turn back at any point when hiking.

Mount Hanazawa was very muddy and afforded very few views of anything due to the closeness of the forest. The top was just a ring of trees and some picnic benches to have a snack on. Walking down the other side, however, Hanazawa no Sato (Flowerdale Village) was much nicer, with many buildings dating back to the Edo period when the Tokkaido was in use.

From there it was onwards to the Yaizu Sapporo brewery and over the Seto River, which was as high as I had ever seen it. The decision not to go onto the Ecopa stadium to see Japan South Africa on a massive screen (we were covered in mud from the hike) turned out to be a good one in the end, as Japan never really threatened to produce a third upset in a row. A nice bottle of wine and some cheese was opted for instead and it was precisely what the doctor ordered.

Quarter Final Results
England 40-16 Australia
New Zealand 46-14 Ireland
Wales 20-19 France
South Africa 26-3 Japan

Semi-Finals
Saturday (1700 JST) England vs New Zealand (International Stadium, Yokohama)
Sunday (1800 JST) Wales vs South Africa (International Stadium, Yokohama)

Expression of the day
一方的な試合でした。 (ippouteki na shiai deshita)
Which means…
(It was a one-sided match.)

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BRIGHTON AND BLANKETS

It’s got a little cooler in Japan now, so humidity and heat will no longer be a factor in the rugby. When the temperatures drop here, there’s nothing like a trip to the onsen, but there’s also nothing like enjoying a kotatsu (a heated table with blanket). It heats up the room and keeps you snug while eating your dinner or catching your favourite show. The only problem is trying to escape it before you fall asleep.

As far as the rugby goes it’s business time. No more minnows. No more dead rubbers. No more one-sided victories (probably). Just good old-fashioned knockout rugby. Anybody can beat anybody. So what are my predictions?

England face Australia in the first game on Saturday. Although Australia edge the historical head-to-head 25-24, England have come out on top in the last six encounters and ten of the last twelve. They’ve met each other in the World Cup final twice, Australia denying England in their own backyard in 1991 before England returned the favour in 2003. I predict an England win this time round, although they may be a little undercooked after three matches in which they were barely challenged. Australia will be more battle-hardened after a tough defeat to Wales. Georgia kept them honest until the closing stages too.

In the late game, the Irish take on the All Blacks in another mouth-watering tie. Ireland finally managed to register a victory in this fixture at the twenty-ninth attempt in Chicago in 2016. They then repeated the feat two years later, this time in Dublin. Ireland also got off to a great start this tournament by thrashing Scotland, but came unstuck immediately after against the hosts. The All Blacks beat the Springboks in their opening fixture before strolling past Namibia and Canada. I’m going for a New Zealand victory based on their performance against South Africa and the fact they’ve taken the last two tournaments, but the Irish can certainly not be ruled out of causing an upset.

On Sunday, the unpredictable French take on Wales. Wales lead the historic head-to-head 50-44 and have taken seven of the last eight meetings. Whilst France snuck past both Argentina and Tonga in the group stages and could easily have lost either match, Wales won all four of theirs, one of which was an impressive performance against Australia. It’s got to be a Wales win for me, but having said that the French have often found a rich vein of form late on in World Cups in the past. The team it is normally at the expense of is New Zealand though, not Wales.

The final quarter has the hosts taking on South Africa. I honestly believe that if they play the faultless, flowing rugby that they did against Scotland, Japan can get the win again. The head to head is one apiece. Japan performed the “Brighton Miracle” at the last World Cup, but were beaten heavily 41-7 in a warm-up match for this tournament. That recent result is why I’m going for the Springboks to win. It’s very much a case of the head saying South Africa, but the heart saying Japan.

So my semi-final predictions are:

England vs New Zealand
Wales vs South Africa

In a difficult to comprehend move, the Shizuoka fan zone has been closed down for good, so there will be nowhere to watch the quarter finals from in a large group in the city. There will be a fan zone in Hamamatsu and the Ecopa stadium will be open for all of the knockout phase (free entrance), but the capacity will be limited to 5,000, which means there’s a risk of going there only to be turned away at the door. I may try to get in on Sunday.

Saturday Quarter Finals
England vs Australia (1615 JST) (Oita Stadium, Oita)
New Zealand vs Ireland (1915 JST) (Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo)
Sunday Quarter Finals
Wales vs France (1615 JST) (Oita Stadium, Oita)
Japan vs South Africa (1915 JST) (Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo)

Expression of the day
ブライトンミラクルが再現するのか? (buraiton mirakuru ga saigen suru no ka)
Which means…
(Will the Brighton Miracle repeat itself?)

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VICTORY ROAD

It’s hard to put into words just how amazing that performance was from Japan, but considering the way they played against Ireland and their ranking one place above Scotland prior to kick-off, it would be an injustice to call it an upset. Japan look to be entirely at home battling it out with the top tier of nations. Perhaps the southern hemisphere championship will have to expand to five teams next year to admit a most worthy member from the north. The Brave Blossoms definitely belong at the top table.

Last night was dazzling. Japan answered all questions asked of them with an assurance belying their pre-tournament underdog status. A combination of electric pace from Matsushima and Fukuoka, ferocious tackling and defence spearheaded by a rampant Leitch, an almost nonchalant calm under pressure by replacement scrum-half Tanaka, and immaculate ball-handling and offloads from the whole team throughout saw the Japanese through to the quarter-finals at the top of Group A. Absolutely nobody is questioning their right to be there now.

Scotland played extremely well themselves. They flew out of the blocks, scoring an early Russell try to put the match at a virtual 0-0 within the first ten minutes. The Japanese did not flinch. Instead, a lightning strike down the wing culminating in a diving pass from Fukuoka to release Matsushima brought them level.

The next try was a thing of beauty, made and finished by the forwards, breaking out of tackles, sidestepping and last-gasp offloading until Inagaki got over right between the posts

The third was a hammer blow for Scotland just before half-time as a kick through the line ended up in Fukuoka’s hands. Nobody was catching him. The second half started with another try, Fukuoka this time expertly ripping the ball from Scotland and catching it before turning on the afterburners to soar through the defence and under the posts.

Scotland could have been forgiven for capitulating in the face of such an onslaught, but instead they roared back. Japan couldn’t keep back the incessant waves of forward pressure, which Nel was the eventual beneficiary of on forty-nine minutes.

Five minutes later, Japan were breached again as Fagerson crossed the line to put the Scottish to within a converted try with another 25 minutes left on the clock. The home fans held their breath.

But that was the last score. Scotland pushed hard, but the Japanese wouldn’t let them through. After gaining the ball just in front of their own try line with a couple of minutes left on the clock, Japan opted to ruck their way to the win rather than kick and hand back the ball.

Scrum-half Tanaka was completely unperturbed by the Scots flying into him as he moved from one battleground to the next to dish the ball out to the next forward offering themselves up for punishment.

Finally, the crowd were counting down to the buzzer and the ball was kicked into touch. Japan were group winners with an amazing 19 points from a possible 20. Celebration time and a rendition of their new tournament song “Victory Road”, based on John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads”. Watch it here.

Here’s an approximate translation with a little artistic licence taken to make it flow better:

If you walk
Down Victory Road
All the way
To the end
Happy days will
Surely follow
If you walk
Down Victory Road

Earlier in the day Tonga defeated the US to take fourth place in Group C, before Wales finally managed to shrug off a limpet-like Uruguay at the death to top Group D.

All of that means I got my quarter-final predictions correct.

As a side note, the BBC reporting has been pretty inaccurate on the public response to the tournament in Japan. It said that Japan did not need these strong performances to get the nation into the tournament. That is not true. It absolutely did need these performances. Rugby is still very much a minority sport here and the rules and points system are regularly shown on broadcasts to educate first time viewers.

Week on week, the number of people attending at the fan zones has shot up. In Shizuoka, it was too full to let people in one hour before kick-off last night; the previous three weeks it was able to contain everybody. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard Japanese people saying in shock/surprise “Rugby’s great, isn’t it.” The Japanese performance in the World Cup is absolutely vital to establishing a continuing legacy, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

As there are only matches on weekends from now on, the blog will be taking mid-week breaks. Thank you for reading and stay tuned!

Yesterday’s Matches
USA 31-19 Tonga (Hanazono Rugby Stadium, Osaka)
Wales 35-13 Uruguay (Kumamoto Stadium, Kumamoto)
Japan 28-21 Scotland (International Stadium, Yokohama)

Quarter-Finals

Saturday
England vs Australia (1615 JST) (Oita Stadium, Oita)
New Zealand vs Ireland (1915 JST) (Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo)
Sunday
Wales vs France (1615 JST) (Oita Stadium, Oita)
Japan vs South Africa (1915 JST) (Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo)

Expression of the day
ビクトリーロード (bikutori ro-do)
この道 (kono michi)
ずっと (zutto)
ゆけば (yukeba)
最後は (saigo wa)
笑える日が (waraeru hi ga)
くるのさ (kuru no sa)
ビクトリーロード (bikutori ro-do)
Which means…
(The Victory Road Song in Japanese)

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BONUS BATTLE

The strongest typhoon to hit Japan in 60 years came and went yesterday, leaving destruction in its wake. After making landfall on the Izu peninsula, it moved up the main island before entering the sea again in Tohoku.

Flooding and landslides occurred in many places due to the intense rainfall, which caused rivers to burst their banks. Five people have already been confirmed to have lost their lives. The reason it is not many more is down to Japan’s familiarity with natural disasters and the measures they have taken to mitigate their impact.

One more rugby match has been cancelled. The Kumagaya stadium is located in a mountainous area, where landslides are still a real danger. For fan and player safety, that means the Namibians’ and Canadians’ World Cup has come to an early end, denying them both the chance of claiming a first tournament victory.

The other three matches scheduled for today will go ahead as planned.

In the first, the US will take on Tonga in Osaka with only pride on the line as they both seek their first win. After that, Wales require a victory over Uruguay in Kumamoto to top their group and seal a quarter-final against France rather than England.

Then it is the grand finale, the match that the group stage has been building towards. There is already a healthy dose of controversy surrounding it due to the Japan vs Samoa referee’s inexplicable decision to penalise Samoa for not feeding into the scrum straight, a practice which has gone unpunished for years.

This allowed Japan to take the bonus point that makes Scotland’s challenge today that much harder. Instead of merely requiring a win to finish ahead of Japan, they now need to ensure that they win by more than seven points or score four tries whilst stopping Japan doing the same.

Above all, I am hoping that the referee’s shocking call in the Samoa game is not the deciding factor.

There was a game yesterday on the island of Kyushu, far enough distant to be unaffected by the typhoon. Ireland made light of an early red card to cruise past Samoa and set up the scenario that will play out in Yokohama this evening.

Yesterday’s Match
Ireland 47-5 Samoa (Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium, Fukuoka)

Today’s Matches
USA vs Tonga (1445 JST) (Hanazono Rugby Stadium, Osaka)
Wales vs Uruguay (1715 JST) (Kumamoto Stadium, Kumamoto)
Japan vs Scotland (1945 JST) (International Stadium, Yokohama)

Expression of the day
無事です ! (buji desu)
Which means…
(We’re safe.)

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STORMY SATURDAY

The massive Typhoon Hagibis is currently making its way directly for Shizuoka and is expected to make landfall in the next few hours. It seems like it’s been here for ages already, though, as the wind has been howling and it’s been tipping it down since last night.

The central supermarket had rows upon rows of empty shelves yesterday, as people stockpiling (including myself) cleaned it out of goods. I had to go to four different places before I could find any water on sale.

There are fears of power outages and cuts to the water supply, so the bath is full just in case and plenty of rice is cooked and ready to go.

Evacuation advisories have also been issued, so our bags are ready if we are ordered to move to a local school, where people assemble to wait out natural disasters. The elderly and young children have already been moved there.

Luckily for us, our area is fairly elevated and we live on the third floor, so the risk of flooding is low. However, there is a large hill relatively nearby, so landslides cannot be ruled out.

Spending the day with the heavy shutters down makes you think it’s still night and is pretty depressing. We’ve opened the windows a few times to let some air in and to get some natural light, but it’s not really enough. I can’t imagine how people living in the far north cope.

Meanwhile, the nation holds its breath as to what will happen when the typhoon actually hits. Rivers are close to bursting as it is, and homes and roads have already been flooded and roofs blown off.

It seems pointless to talk about rugby at this time, but a game will be going on in Fukuoka later on and tomorrow the group stage will come to an end.

Hopefully the damage from the typhoon won’t be too bad and Japan can quickly move forward, as it has done so many times before.

Today’s Match
Ireland vs Samoa (1945 JST) (Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium, Fukuoka)

Tomorrow’s Matches
Namibia vs Canada (1215 JST) (Kamaishi Memorial Recovery Stadium, Kamaishi)
USA vs Tonga (1445 JST) (Hanazono Rugby Stadium, Osaka)
Wales vs Uruguay (1715 JST) (Kumamoto Stadium, Kumamoto)
Japan vs Scotland (1945 JST) (International Stadium, Yokohama)

Expression of the day
気を付けて下さい! (ki wo tsukete kudasai)
Which means…
(Take care.)

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SMASHING STEREOTYPES

It’s a myth that Japanese trains always run on time. They are, for the most part, extremely punctual, but to say that delays don’t happen is complete nonsense.

However, stories of rail companies apologising for their train departing two seconds late or one second early are exactly the kind of fodder that international newspapers lap up and, in doing so, they perpetuate the same tired stereotypes about Japan.

It’s not just newspapers that are guilty of perpetuating Asian stereotypes. The second episode of the first series of the most recent BBC Sherlock series threw in a load of East Asian things with little regard for accuracy or provenance alongside some patronising pidgin English. It was barely watchable Orientalism.

Imagine a Japanese TV show dressing a purportedly Italian guy in lederhosen with a string of garlic round his neck and a beefeater hat and you can begin to understand. And don’t get me started on “Lost in Translation”. It was more like “Lost in Casual Racism”.

I was caught out as well. Dancing was never banned in public places in Japan, as was suggested in a previous diary entry. However, many international press articles were written saying that it was and I foolishly went along with what they reported. I should have known better.

Western media’s determination to make Japan seem different and unusual so often gets in the way of any regard for the truth.

I don’t think visiting helps that much either unfortunately. With a huge language barrier and the forces of ‘omotenashi’ (hospitality) and ‘tatemae’ (masking your true feelings) in play, it’s pretty much impossible for a foreigner to pick up much on a flying visit beyond the fact that it’s “really clean” and the Japanese are “really friendly”.

Anyway, enough on the stereotypes. There was some rugby today. Georgia put up a valiant fight against the Wallabies, keeping within a converted try until just before the hour mark. They even managed to score a try themselves, going down 27-8 to end the tournament in proud fashion.

There will be one game tomorrow as Ireland, looking to secure qualification, face Samoa. The Italians, meanwhile, will continue to seethe about the fact they’ve been knocked out by weather. I can definitely sympathise with them. Firstly, there should have been a contingency plan in place for typhoons. Secondly, I’m sure contingency plans would have miraculously emerged if the boot had been on the other foot and it was the All Blacks facing elimination.

Such is the fate of smaller rugby nations.

Today’s Match
Australia 27-8 Georgia (Shizuoka Ecopa Stadium, Shizuoka)

Tomorrow’s Match
Ireland vs Samoa (1945 JST) (Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium, Fukuoka)

Expression of the day
不公平です! (fukouhei desu)
Which means…
(It’s unfair.)

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HAGIBIS HOVERS

Yesterday the Japanese expression of the day was that you can never tell what the future will bring and that has proved true with the imminent arrival of Typhoon Hagibis, which has thrown up a whole new set of conundrums.

The typhoon, which is expected to be the most powerful of this year’s season, is set to make landfall during the day on Saturday and will undoubtedly cause considerable damage to property, as well as massive disruption to public transport.

As a result, the New Zealand Italy match in Toyota and the England France match in Yokohama have both been cancelled. That means elimination for the Italians, a guaranteed first place for New Zealand and England and a second place finish for France. The Ireland Samoa game is being played far away in Kyushu and will remain unaffected.

There has been no announcement on the crucial Sunday encounter between Japan and Scotland as of yet, but I can assure you that the Japanese will do everything they possibly can to make sure it happens. They want to fight it out, not qualify through the back door. That is not the Japanese way.

If their efforts do prove in vain, however, and the match is cancelled, Japan would be guaranteed first place in the group due to their victory over Ireland, who would finish second with a win over Samoa. In this worst case scenario, the Scottish would be relying on the Samoans to upset the Irish to continue in the competition.

That would be a real pity, as they put in by far their most impressive performance of their World Cup so far in Shizuoka yesterday, brushing aside the Russians 61-0 with nine unanswered tries, including a George Horne hat-trick. That came after a comfortable farewell win for Argentina against the USA.

The late game very much summed up Fiji’s World Cup. There was a lot of early promise, with three early tries run in. There was also poor kicking, which meant they trailed Wales even when they were three tries to two up. Finally they ran out of steam, and Wales capitalised with a couple more tries to take an unnecessary but welcome bonus point.

For the Islanders it is very much a case of what could have been, but for the Welsh, it’s a quarter-final against France.

Please do not plan to travel anywhere in or near the area that will be affected by the typhoon on Saturday. Just stay inside. Most casualties happen when people are hit by flying debris, fall into the sea or have their vehicles overturned. Remaining indoors will allow you to avoid all such scenarios.

Typhoons are also highly unpredictable. Check the latest movements in the forecasted path here so it doesn’t take you be surprise.

Yesterday’s Matches
Argentina 47-17 USA (Kumagaya Rugby Stadium, Kumagaya)
Scotland 61-0 Russia (Shizuoka Ecopa Stadium, Shizuoka)
Wales 29-17 Fiji (Oita Stadium, Oita)

Tomorrow’s Match
Australia vs Georgia (1915 JST) (Shizuoka Ecopa Stadium, Shizuoka)

Expression of the day
家にいた方がいいでしょう (ie ni ita houga ii deshou)
Which means…
(You’d best stay at home.)

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QUARTER QUALIFICATION

With just five days remaining before the group stage ends, it’s worth looking ahead to what the probable quarter final match-ups will be.

Pool A is definitely the most interesting of the groups. Assuming Ireland defeat Samoa, they are guaranteed qualification. Whether that be in first or second place depends on if Scotland beat Japan in their final match.

In order to advance themselves, Scotland need to pull off a minor miracle by first securing a bonus point win against Russia, then four days later defeat Japan either by more than seven points or whilst scoring four tries or more. If the bonus point is not secured against Russia, they would have to do both of the above.

Japan will top the group with a win, but finish second with a narrow defeat to Scotland. With a partisan crowd and tired Scottish legs, I predict a Japan win, meaning the group will finish with Japan in first and Ireland second.

Pool B is far more straightforward. Considering the minimal resistance put up by Italy against South Africa, it is hard to see them getting anything from their game against the All Blacks. That would leave New Zealand first and South Africa second.

In Pool C, England and France are already both guaranteed a place in the last eight, and the winner of their game on the weekend will determine who is first and who second. England have barely broken sweat so far, whereas France have been pushed close twice by Tonga and Argentina. An England win looks probable.

In Pool D, Fiji have a chance to throw a spanner in the Wales’ works today, but if they fail to do so Wales are looking likely pool winners. Even if Fiji do pull off a shock, they would be unlikely to qualify due to their loss against Uruguay. Wales would have to lose to Uruguay and/or Australia would have to lose to Georgia to let them back into the picture. Therefore, I’m going with Wales first and Australia second.

If those are the results, the quarter finals would be:

Saturday
England vs Australia
New Zealand vs Ireland

Sunday
Wales vs France
Japan vs South Africa

Tasty.

Yesterday’s Match
South Africa 66-7 Canada (Kobe Misaki Stadium, Kobe)

Today’s Matches
Argentina vs USA (1345 JST) (Kumagaya Rugby Stadium, Kumagaya)
Scotland vs Russia (1615 JST) (Shizuoka Ecopa Stadium, Shizuoka)
Wales vs Fiji (1845 JST) (Oita Stadium, Oita)

Expression of the day
先の事など誰にも予想できない ? (saki no koto nado dare ni mo yosou dekinai)
Which means…
(You can never tell what will happen.)

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HEAVENLY HIMEJI

After a rest day at the World Cup yesterday, the action returned on Tuesday in Kobe for an encounter that was both a mismatch and a dead rubber. As expected, the Springboks crushed the Canadians with the minimum of fuss, running in ten tries to take the game 66-7. However, the Canadians did do well to restrict the South Africans to three tries in the second half and to score one themselves with a man disadvantage.

We had a look at Kobe itself last week, but Himeji, home of Japan’s largest and most famous castle, is just a little ways down the train track. I visited the city myself in my first summer in Japan, and I think it’s fair to say I was a little taken with it reading back the blog I wrote then. I wonder how I’d feel now after seeing so many other castles.

The Japanese themselves have nicknamed the castle either ‘White Egret Castle’ or ‘White Heron Castle’ due to the brilliant white that the castle regained after renovation in 2015. But it seems there’s no pleasing some, as it is now perhaps most famously known as ‘Too White Castle’.

A quick word to the wise on my experience of Japanese castles in general. With few exceptions, the exterior is far more impressive than the interior. If you want to just walk around the grounds, it is most often free, as they normally serve a double function as a park for local residents.

The Japanese love numbering and ranking their attractions. Himeji is one of Japan’s “three great castles”, alongside Kumamoto (mentioned yesterday) and Matsumoto. There are also “three great gardens”, which are located in Kanazawa, Okayama and Mito. I’ve been to all three of the castles and one of the gardens. They were all worth it.

Tomorrow is a day of reckoning for Scotland. They need to beat Russia, and they need to secure a bonus point. Even if they do manage that, it’s going to be a tall order facing the tournament hosts just four days later. Wales will also have the chance to all but secure first place in their pool against Fiji in the late game.

Today’s Match
South Africa 66-7 Canada (Kobe Misaki Stadium, Kobe)

Tomorrow’s Matches
Argentina vs USA (1345 JST) (Kumagaya Rugby Stadium, Kumagaya)
Scotland vs Russia (1615 JST) (Shizuoka Ecopa Stadium, Shizuoka)
Wales vs Fiji (1845 JST) (Oita Stadium, Oita)

Expression of the day
白すぎ城へ行ったことがありますか ? (shiro sugi jou e itta koto ga arimasu ka)
Which means…
(Have you been to “Too White Castle”?)

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KUMAMON’S KUMAMOTO

Namibia held their own for much longer than anybody expected against the All Blacks yesterday, trailing by just a point with five minutes left in the first half and with a temporary one man advantage after a sin binning.

But even down to 14 men, New Zealand are a force to be reckoned with, and six tries in the subsequent twenty minutes blew the Africans away as normal service was resumed.

The late game was a thriller, as France proved themselves experts at winning 23-21, exactly the same score that saw them triumph over Argentina in their first match.

The Tongans left their comeback just a little too late, meaning the French join England in the last eight with nothing but bragging rights on the line in the final group game between the old rivals.

The venue of the encounter was Kumamoto, which is the home of the rather wonderful Kumamon, who was voted best city mascot in a recent nationwide survey, despite being created fewer than ten years ago.

The rosy-cheeked black bear is ubiquitous in the city and his popularity has spread far beyond Japan’s borders, helped by a feature in a BTS video.

Kumamoto is also well-known for its enormous castle, which dominates the city. Unfortunately, it was badly damaged in the 2016 earthquake, but it has now partially re-opened to visitors.

Kumamon has played a large part in collections for the relief effort, which have been held for the region across Japan. With natural disasters occurring so often, this follows a well-established pattern of the rest of the country helping out the region impacted.

I found it a very welcoming city when I visited in late 2015, and I’d definitely recommend checking it out if you’re in the area.

Yesterday’s Matches
New Zealand 71-9 Namibia (Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo)
France 23-21 Tonga (Kumamoto Stadium, Kumamoto)

Tomorrow’s Match
South Africa vs Canada (1915 JST) (Kobe Misaki Stadium, Kobe)

Expression of the day
くまモンは可愛いですね ! (kumamon wa kawaii desu ne)
Which means…
(Kumamon’s so cute!)

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