A new World Cup lights up the Land of the Rising Sun
Welcome to bullet trains, sake, sushi and karaoke. And there will be some rugby as well
This is it, then, the showpiece of the sport, and the ultimate prize the game has to offer. More than any other competition, World Cups define the careers of players and teams. Dan Carter’s gilded career, just as one example, would have been incomplete without that 2015 winners’ medal.
There have been eight World Cups but none quite like this one, the first to be held in Asia. Japan 2019 will be very different from those previous eight, all of which have been hosted in the traditional strongholds of the Southern Hemisphere big three or the home unions and France.
The World Cup is boldly going where no World Cup has gone before, to a second-tier host nation which remains one of the few countries in the world that has retained its own unique culture and curiosity factor in this age of globalisation.
Amid the typhoons, there will be thrills and spills. There’ll be language barriers, and it will be far from the only show in town, ala New Zealand in 2011, as we all negotiate bullet trains, drink plenty of sake and eat plenty of sushi, noodles soups and healthy Japanese cuisine while observing Japanese customs. And, of course, there’ll be karaoke nights.
And rugby supporters are evidently intrigued, not least here in Ireland, at the prospect of a once-in-a-lifetime rugby World Cup.
The World Cup is set to attract the largest number of foreign fans in the tournament’s history, with more than 600,000 of the 1.8 million available tickets expected to be held by international fans making the journey to Japan.
Based on ticket purchase data from the priority and general sales phases, as well as official travel and hospitality programmes, England fans are expected to make up 23.9 per cent of the foreign fan contingent, followed by Australia with 15.6 per cent and Ireland – the third highest – with 7.9 per cent.
The Irish invasion may not be quite on the scale of the Blarney Army in New Zealand, much less the more adjacent England/Wales tournament of four years ago, which turned all of Ireland’s pool games into quasi-home matches. But it won’t be far from it as it’s estimated that around 12,000 fans will travel from Ireland at various junctures of the World Cup, and that number will potentially be swelled to double that by the Irish diaspora.
Many, for sure, optimistically booked flights and tickets for the quarter-finals and even beyond at the tail end of 2018, when Ireland were augmenting a Grand Slam, a come-from-behind series win in Australia and beating the All Blacks to lay claim to the accolade of World Team of the Year.
Now, ironically, Ireland go into the tournament as the world’s number one rank side, yet that giddy optimism amongst Irish supporters has been discernibly dimmed by two defeats by England and one by Wales.
Yet they arrived in Japan buoyed by those recent wins over Wales, all of which has served to temper the mood among Irish fans, which may be no bad thing.
It will also be, of course, a televised feast, with Eir Sport showing live coverage of all 48 games and all of Ireland’s games being broadcast on RTÉ, with viewers here and in the UK also being served by ITV.
Admittedly, the eight-hour time difference means that the games will be in the mornings hereabouts, with Ireland’s opening game against Scotland on Sunday, September 22nd, at 8.45am Irish time, which may or may not clip a few wings on the preceding Saturday night. When Japan host Ireland the following Saturday, September 28th, it will have an 8.15am kick-off Irish time.
At least the Russian game, although on Thursday, October 3rd, will kick off at 11.15am Irish time, while the Samoan game on Saturday, October 12th, is at a relatively civilised 11.45am Irish time.
As for a prospective quarter-final on either Saturday, October 19th, or the following day, they are both scheduled for 11.15am kick-offs. However, the semi-finals of the weekend of October 26th/27th will kick off at 9am Irish time, as will the ninth World Cup final on Saturday, November 2nd.
It really is going to be something else.