Mayhem and I started the day by popping down to Sapporo station to get his 7-day Japan Rail Pass sorted.
Big queues as the Aussie and English fans had flooded in over the last few days. Friends, I can report that they were not as organised as Ned. Not nearly. Some of them seemed a bit surprised that Japan was a foreign country. None of them had a detailed list of the train reservations they wanted to make. Amateurs.
Mayhem was appropriately dazzled by the wondrous paperwork. Seriously people, exchanging your rail pass voucher is an experience worth the trip to Japan, all in itself.
Then we meandered down to Odori Park to one of the Fanzones. Lovely little spot to lie on the grass and watch a big screen. A little garden of lavender with dragonflies a-buzzing.
At one point of a group of tall, lithe women arrived. Mayhem and I debated which sport they wer involved in. Not quite tall enough for basketball, maybe a sevens rugby team? I checked: they were the USA volleyball team, in Sapporo for the World Cup which is happening here at the same time as the rugby. How much sporting fun can one city handle?
RWC2019 Match 2: Australia 39 Fiji 21
Lying on the grass we watched Fiji steam out of the blocks. They played well for 60 minutes, then got a yellow card, and it was all over rover as the Aussies swept through with three more tries for a bonus point win.
My impression that the Wallabies were not great was confirmed by a few Aussie fans chatted with later. Suffice to say that they’re here for the beer, not the trophy. The best anyone could manage about Cheika was “You can’t blame the coach if the players make bad decisions”, to which I replied “That’s exactly who you blame.” He deflated a little: “Oh. Yeah.”
RWC2019 Match 3: France 23 Argentina 21
Mayhem and I relocated from the Fanzone to a sports bar, on the basis that we wanted to be settled in before the Aussies were released from
prison the stadium. We got the last two stools at the bar, right in front of a big screen. Perfect.
Les Bleus played much much better than their pre-tournament form would suggest. Some flair, plenty of ambition, and only a few brain farts. They stayed interested for the full 80, and celebrated at the end as if they’d won the trophy itself.
Which maybe tells you as much as you need to know about this French team: everybody has written them off, including me and including maybe themselves. This game was about them persuading themselves they can do it. Maybe they’ll carry that forward, and maybe they won’t, but this game showed they have enough skill and strength and speed to be a threat to most.
Argentina should be kicking themselves for losing a game that was in their grasp. They came roaring back in the second half to take the lead, and then let it slip through their fingers. In the last five minutes, with oxygen deficit and Creevey off the field, their rugby brain switched off. They took a long-range penalty shot, when the money play was kick for the corner, lineout and drive to take a try or suck a penalty close to the posts.
Not a good sign for the Bargeys.
Still waiting to see if the RWC Judiciary will have any spine when it comes to the after the final whistle all in how’s your father. Not holding my breath.
RWC2019 Match 4: New Zealand 23 South Africa 13
The Big One.
By now the bar was heaving with drunk and loud Aussies, and loud and drunk Pongos. Mayhem and I were focused on keeping our heads down and out of trouble, not matter how much trouble wanted to find us.
Philosophical aside: why do so many sports fans bring the worst part of themselves on tour? Why don’t they leave the boofhead onesie at home, and just pack the pleasant pyjamas?
Anyways. I was ignoring the pushing and insults and drink spilling at my back.
The ABs brought their own passion to the anthem and a refreshed haka. Hoo boy.
And the Boks brought plenty of passion to meet it.
It was a game of four quarters:
- Boks with the ball, ABs holding them back.
- ABs unleash, with gorgeous tries to Bridge and Barrett. (No, the big one. Scott.)
- Boks have drunk something at half-time, and come out rampaging. ABs defensive system misfires once, and the Boks stroll through for their one and only try.
- ABs take control to close it out. Some pretty damn good game management focused on getting the win, not scoring mega-points. That’s a good sign for later on.
The good people around me now made the mistake of suggesting that I could relax, as we now move on to Canada, Italy and Namibia. Sheesh. Have they learned nothing?
Points of interest for me:
- The Mo-unga – Barret combo works.
- Sevu Reece is this year’s Nehe Milner-Skudder. He does unexpected things that other teams haven’t figured out yet. They will, but hopefully not for another six weeks.
- There was a bloody interesting substitution sequence: Tuiplotu comes on for Cane, with Savea going to openside and S. Barrett moving from lock to blindside; you get extra minutes from Barrett the big unit, then sub him off for Frizzel on at blindside. Can you remember any international team doing such a sequence?
- For the Boks, they really only had one interesting attack option: Kolbe on the right wing, who is small and freakishly fast and numbingly nimble. He bamboozled our defence three times, but also bamboozled his own team mates, so they couldn’t get in support fast enough.
The conclusion is this: we did what we had to do, which was win beyond 8 points, but we cannot relax.
Not now. Not ever.