Where EAST meets the Northwest
RUGBY IN THE RAIN. A member of Japan’s rugby team, Jiwon Koo, carries his
teammate, James Moore, through a flooded walkway at a Tokyo stadium during team
practice. Rugby stars in Japan for the World Cup mostly heeded the same safety
warnings as Japanese residents as the country braced to be hit by a typhoon.
(Yuki Sato/Kyodo News via AP)
From The Asian Reporter, V29, #20 (October 21, 2019), page 10.
As Japan braced for typhoon, rugby squad trained in the rain
By John Pye
AP Sports Writer
TOKYO — Emergency crews were on high alert. Flights and trains were
cancelled. Rugby stars in Japan for the World Cup mostly heeded the same safety
warnings as everyone else as the country braced to be hit by a typhoon tipped to
be its worst in six decades.
Tokyo Disneyland was shut. Shops were closed, shelves empty in some places as
people stockpiled provisions. Images of massive waves pounding into Japan’s main
island were all over the media. Rugby World Cup games were cancelled.
And what was Michael Leitch and his Japan squad doing amid all this? Slogging
through shin-deep water to get onto a sodden rugby field in downtown Tokyo to
prepare for a game against Scotland that was possibly postponed. It was hours
before Typhoon Hagibis made landfall, and an earthquake in the area, but it was
evidence of how this squad does things its own way.
"Discipline is crucial when the game gets tight," Leitch was quoted as saying
by the national news agency.
They’ve certainly been disciplined. Japan won three games at the 2015 Rugby
World Cup, including the epic upset of two-time champion South Africa, but still
missed out on the quarterfinals. Despite the against-the-odds nature of that
campaign, missing out on the knockout stage deeply hurt the players. Ultimately,
it was a loss to Scotland that cost them.
The squad that some critics regarded as an assembly of rugby expats has
certainly won the support of the host nation, probably because perseverance is a
Joseph is a former New Zealand forward who played against Japan at the 1995
World Cup, and then switched to play for Japan in ’99. And now he’s coach.
Leitch was born in New Zealand, has Fijian heritage, but moved to Japan at
age 15 and is playing in his third World Cup, his second as captain. He’s teak
tough, and a leader who exemplifies the team-first attitude. Players like halves
partners Yutaka Nagare and Yu Tamura and winger Kenki Fukuoka have highlighted
the increasing depth of the homegrown talent pool.
Prop Keita Inagaki was on the Japan squad that lost to Scotland four years
ago in England, and he carries that as motivation.
"I have never forgotten that feeling of defeat," Keita was quoted as saying
by Kyodo. "We played two tests against them a year later and I still remember
the pain from those, too."
Japan advanced to the quarterfinal round, but was defeated by South Africa
over the weekend. In the semifinals, held October 26 and 27, England meets New
Zealand and Wales plays South Africa. The final takes place November 2.
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