Victorious Japan kick off Asia’s first Rugby World Cup in style

Japan’s Kotaro Matsushima, left, fends off Russia’s Vladislav Sozonov to score his third try during the Rugby World Cup Pool A game at Tokyo Stadium. (AP Photo)
Updated 20 September 2019

Victorious Japan kick off Asia’s first Rugby World Cup in style

  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was among the home fans decked out in red and white replica shirts as Kotaro Matsushima’s hat-trick ensured a 30-10 bonus-point win over Russia
  • The six-week tournament promises to be one of the most open in history with several teams considered capable of denying New Zealand an unprecedented third straight title

TOKYO: Hosts Japan kicked off the first Rugby World Cup in Asia with victory Friday as the game seeks to attract new converts outside its traditional heartlands in Europe and the southern hemisphere.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was among the home fans decked out in red and white replica shirts as Kotaro Matsushima’s hat-trick ensured a 30-10 bonus-point win over Russia at Tokyo Stadium.
The opening ceremony saw children representing the 20 competing teams belting out the World Rugby anthem “World in Union” before former All Black skipper Richie McCaw brought in the glittering Webb Ellis Cup.
Prince Akishino officially declared the tournament open, with World Rugby chief Bill Beaumont saying: “This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for... We can all be very proud tonight. You have made history.”
The six-week tournament, which culminates on November 2, promises to be one of the most open in history, with several teams considered capable of denying New Zealand an unprecedented third straight title.
Organizers hope stars such as All Black Beauden Barrett, Ireland’s Johnny Sexton or South Africa’s Siya Kolisi will spark enthusiasm for the game in Japan and Asia more broadly.

The early signs are good, with officials saying the tournament should be close to a complete sell-out and a staggering 15,000 fans turning out on a public holiday just to watch Wales train.
“I often watch football and basketball but I don’t watch rugby,” salaryman Hirohide Kawase, 54, told AFP at the public viewing in Tokyo’s glitzy Ginza district.
“So I thought this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
The global rugby showpiece will serve as a tasty amuse-bouche for Japan as it prepares to host the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics.
Officials claim that a promotional drive has inspired 1.8 million new rugby participants since 2016, one million of those in Japan.
But there are also reasons to believe the game in Japan is in need of support, with declining gates for club rugby matches and the country’s only Super Rugby franchise, the Tokyo-based Sunwolves, booted out of the competition for commercial and logistical reasons.
Much will depend on the success of the home team, which is aiming to build on the win against Russia to reach the quarter-finals for the very first time.
Japan served up the biggest shock in World Cup history in 2015 when they beat the mighty Springboks 34-32 in a match dubbed the “miracle of Brighton” that has even inspired a movie.
This time, however, no one is taking the Brave Blossoms lightly and they will do well to get out of a pool dominated by Ireland and Scotland.
The All Blacks remain the team to beat and their crunch encounter with South Africa on Saturday will go a long way to determining the outcome of Pool B — and maybe the next home of the Webb Ellis Cup.
Ireland come into the competition as the world’s number one side, but they often flatter to deceive when it comes to the World Cup and have never ventured beyond the quarter-finals.
Much rests on the shoulders of fly-half Sexton who at 34 is no longer in the first flush of youth and has suffered an alarming dip in form.
England, coached by Eddie Jones — who led Japan to that famous win over the Springboks — will also fancy their chances but they have been drawn in a tough Pool C alongside bitter Six Nations rivals France and the ever-dangerous Argentina.
Jones named a full-strength team for the opening match against Tonga, showing he is not taking the Pacific islanders lightly.
The other group sees Australia and Wales as the top teams and either one could trouble the business end of the competition.
But the gap between the traditional haves and have-nots of World Rugby has shrunk and more upsets are expected — with Fiji in particular considered a dangerous dark horse.
With the tournament held in natural disaster-prone Japan, organizers say they have put in a “meticulous” contingency plan against earthquakes and also typhoons, which are very much in season during the competition.
If a match cannot be played, it will count as a draw, resulting in the intriguing potential scoreline of New Zealand 0, Namibia 0.


Police want Liverpool title decider in neutral stadium

Updated 30 May 2020

Police want Liverpool title decider in neutral stadium

  • The move aims to prevent fans from gathering outside when the competition resumes

MANCHESTER, England: Liverpool might not win the English Premier League at Anfield after police included the leader’s key games among at least five it wants at neutral venues in a bid to prevent fans from gathering outside when the competition resumes.
Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp hopes authorities will allow them to play at home as planned, with supporters adhering to advice while they are prevented from attending games due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Police originally wanted neutral venues for all 92 remaining games but the plan was opposed by the clubs — particularly those trying to avoid relegation.
The league plans to resume on June 17 after a 100-day shutdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic, pending final approval from government, which is trying to prevent a second spike in cases.
Police don’t object to the games on that Wednesday night being played at Manchester City and Aston Villa.
But police want the derby between Everton and Liverpool to be played away from Merseyside a few days later. The game was originally scheduled at Goodison Park. Liverpool, which leads by 25 points with nine games remaining, could clinch the title by beating Everton if second-placed City loses to Arsenal on June 17.
If the 30-year title drought doesn’t end that day, police want Liverpool’s next game, against Crystal Palace, to be played away from Anfield.
Greater Manchester Police have already determined Liverpool’s third game back against Manchester City should be staged away from Etihad Stadium.
Liverpool’s fourth game back is against Aston Villa, currently scheduled at Anfield.
The same Manchester force wants City’s game against Newcastle and Manchester United’s home game against Sheffield United played outside of the northwest location.
Police in Newcastle also don’t want the home game against Liverpool to be played at St. James’ Park on the final day of the season, which could be July 26.
Mark Roberts, the head of football policing in England, said the plans will remain under review but are based on public health demands.
“We have reached a consensus that balances the needs of football, while also minimizing the demand on policing,” said Roberts, the football policing lead at the National Police Chiefs’ Council. “The views and agreement of forces which host Premier League clubs have been sought and where there were concerns, the Premier League has been supportive in providing flexibility in arranging alternative venues where requested.”
One obvious neutral venue is Wembley Stadium in north London which is not the home of any club side.
“This plan will be kept continually under review to ensure public health and safety and a key part of this is for supporters to continue to respect the social distancing guidelines, and not to attend or gather outside the stadiums,” Roberts said.
Even without a vaccine for COVID-19, fans could return to games next season, which is due to begin in September.
“There is optimism at the Premier League and at clubs that we will see fans back in the stadiums next season,” Premier League chief executive Richard Masters told Sky Sports TV, “and it may happen on a phased basis.”
Only 200 of the 380 Premier League games each season are contracted to be broadcast live in Britain, but all remaining fixtures will be aired live because fans will not be allowed in stadiums.
The reshaped English season is set to end with the FA Cup final on Aug. 1.
The Football Association on Friday announced its competition will provisionally resume with the quarterfinals on the weekend of June 27-28. The semifinals are now scheduled for July 18-19.
“This has been a difficult period for many people and, while this is a positive step, the restart date is dependent on all safety measures being met,” FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said.
Though the COVID-19 deaths per day have fallen in Britain since early April, another 377 were still reported on Thursday, bringing the known death toll in all settings including hospitals and care homes to 37,837.