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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Today’s title is an expression you will see whenever Japan is playing sport. The two kanji 必勝 normally adorn headbands worn by supporters. The meaning of the first is “definitely” and the second is “win”. Yesterday, they definitely won.

But before getting onto THAT game, a quick recap on the other two matches yesterday. In the early kick-off, Argentina flew out of the blocks against Tonga, securing a bonus point in under 30 minutes before taking their foot off the gas in the second period.

In the late game, an all African affair, South Africa comprehensively overpowered the minnows of Namibia. The key match to determine qualification from this group is looking likely to be the Springboks’ match with Italy, which will be taking place in Shizuoka.

And that’s where yesterday’s big game was held, too.

On my way to work in the morning, I passed by many huddles of green taking a look around the city before catching the train to the venue.

Once work was over, I headed full steam for the fan zone, where a much larger crowd had assembled than there was for the Russia game. The weather was much better, too.

Ireland started well with an early try (not converted), but Japan quickly replied with 3 points of their own. Ireland then scored a second try (converted) to take a 12-3 lead, but Japan managed to kick themselves to within 3 by half time.

The second half saw Japan move ahead 16-12 thanks to their only try of the match before they kicked another 3 meaning Ireland would need two scores to win or a converted try to level.

That didn’t happen, and a huge roar broke out to celebrate a victory for the host nation on a par with their triumph against South Africa in the last tournament.

Japan now look well-placed to qualify for the last eight, but neither Samoa nor Scotland will be pushovers in their final group games. Ireland will also be expected to qualify, despite this unexpected setback.

CORRECTION: Thanks again to Yuka. It is possible to say both 必勝 (hisshou) and 必ず勝つ (kanarazu katsu). You should read the headband as “hisshou”, as the kanji stand alone.

Today’s Matches
Argentina 28-12 Tonga (Hanazono Rugby Stadium, Osaka)
Japan 19-12 Ireland (Shizuoka Ecopa Stadium, Shizuoka)
South Africa 57-3 Namibia (City of Toyota Stadium, Toyota)

Tomorrow’s Matches
Georgia vs Uruguay (1415 JST) (Kumagaya Rugby Stadium, Kumagaya)
Australia vs Wales (1645 JST) (Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo)

Expression of the day
必勝 (kanarazu katsu)
Which means…
We will definitely win!

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