040. Matches 9, 10, 11 and 12

RWC2019 Match 9: Samoa 34 Russia 9

Our hotel in Hiroshima was basically in the railway station, and across the road was an eight-storey building full of restaurant stalls and pachinko parlours.  Avoid the pachinko and go for the restaurants, especially the okonomiyaki.  Wikipedia describes it as “a Japanese savory pancake containing a variety of ingredients in a wheat-flour-based batter”, which barely scratches the surface of the thing.

The Hiroshima variant layers rather than mixes the ingredients, and the real point is to sit on the stool and watch it being prepared in front of you. A thin batter spread on the hotplate, a big handful of shredded cabbage, your chosen bits and pieces, an egg, flipped a couple of times and slathered in a local sauce.

It’s the theatre as much as the taste.

Which explains why Mayhem and I were a bit late getting to the pub to watch this game.

Short story: Russia were willing but limited, and Samoa struggled to get their rhythm. Three yellow cards (two for Samoa, and one for Russia), six tries to Samoa and a bonus point. They’ll be pleased to start their campaign and, for the moment, be top of Pool A.

 

RWC2019 Match 10: Uruguay 30 Fiji 27

Didn’t see any of this match as we were Shinkansen-ing our way to Kyushu, so I had to rely on breathless text updates from LittleDavyOne to alert me to the first upset of the tournament.

Okay, one of my brothers predicted this result, but I reckon that was just a slip of the pen. Or he had actually studied the draw and seen that Fiji had played Australia on Saturday and were playing again on Wednesday.

This is the real burden faced by qualifying teams at Rugby World Cups: they’re given some pretty short turn-arounds. The match reports suggest that Fiji were fumbling and out of sorts.

But fair-do’s to Uruguay: this is their first win in a Rugby World Cup since 28 October 2003 when they beat Georgia 24 – 12.

 

RWC2019 Match 11: Italy 48 Canada 7

Mayhem and I had got to Fukuoka the previous evening.  A good little (and I mean little) apartment three train stops from the city centre. We spent an excellent couple of hours in the local supermarket marvelling at many things we did not comprehend.  The locals thought us charming.

On the day of this match we headed into the main station, got interviewed by a local television station (as you do, and they also thought us charming), and went to the Canal City complex for two things: get Mayhem a Japan RWC2019 jersey and play some arcade games.

Mayhem (left) and friend in Japan RWC2019 jerseys.

The arcade was as noisy and bright and distracting and disorienting as you might expect.  The evil genius is that you can use your IC card (the memory chip tap to pay cards that are essential for subways and local trains and buses) to pay for games.  Which means paying to play is painless.

A couple of games caught our admiration: one local guy was beating a dream on ‘drums’, somehow scoring points for something, and getting a damn good workout at the same time. By contrast, there was a train driving game, with full console and wrap around screens where the aim was to get the train in to the station on time and smoothly and stop at the exactly appointed spot on the platform. Genius.

After all that excitement we headed out to the stadium by subway and shuttle bus.

Involved in our first traffic accident: some numpty taxi passenger opened their door just as our bus started off. Taxi driver very unimpressed with his door pointing in the wrong direction. No injuries all round, carry on.

The Fukuoka stadium is in a gorgeous park setting, with each end open to the trees.  Clearly not generally used for rugby, as they’d had to bring in extra lighting for the in-goal areas.

 

West end of Fukuoka Stadium
East end of Fukuoka Stadium

Also clearly not generally used for rugby because the turf cut up very badly after the very first scrum.

Pitch damage after first scrum.

 

A couple of match helpers came on with buckets of sand and tried to stamp it down while play proceeded around them.

Trying to fix the pitch.

 

This is one of the challenges of holding matches in non-rugby stadia, because soccer (for example) generally favours a flat surface over a robust one.  Having said that, the pitch at the Millennium  Stadium in Cardiff was notoriously awful. Difficult enough to get grass to grow in Wales without putting a lid over it.

There will be controversy if the pitch conditions lead to an injury, or affects the result of a match, especially in the knock out matches.

On to the match itself.

O Canada, indeed.

Woeful is one word. Inept is another. Embarrassing is a third. Seriously awful performance, with missed tackles, dropped balls, and lack of vision.

The Italians played well, with strong runners and real ambition. They may, should, come away with the idea of having a crack at making the quarter-finals. That would require tipping over either South Africa or New Zealand.

Which means that the All Blacks final pool match on 12 October should be a fairly willing encounter. Good.

 

RWC2019 Match 12: England 45 USA 7

Mayhem and I made our way back to the centre of Fukuoka to the Fanzone. As you would imagine, a very well set up space with a big screen, good food, a happy crowd of mainly locals, and unfortunately the sponsor’s product.

We had agreed beforehand that we weren’t particularly enthusiastic about supporting either team, so we would clap and yell only when there was good play. The first opportunity came in about the 75th minute.

I cannot understand what Eddie Jones was trying to achieve in this match. The English passing was loose, and they were constantly running into contact rather than finding holes.

It was only when Owen Farrell came on late in the game that they started finding any fluency. He passed long and in front of the player.  Which probably tells you all you need to know about Willie Heinz and George Ford as the starting 9 – 10 combo.

The Americans picked up the first red card of the tournament, well-deserved for a nasty shoulder to Farrell’s nose. They also picked up the last try of the match, with only 14 men, in a scrambling mangle of a final play when England had multiple opportunities to stop the play.

My overall impression: England have trained four years to be strong, but they haven’t trained to be skilful or particularly smart.  Farrell is their one and only strike weapon.

Oops.

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