Rugby: Landmark win over South Africa in World Cup spurs interest for game in Japan

Japan's Michael Leitch (right) and Luke Thompson during training. People who confessed they knew little about rugby before Saturday's historic win said they would be watching avidly on Wednesday.
Japan's Michael Leitch (right) and Luke Thompson during training. People who confessed they knew little about rugby before Saturday's historic win said they would be watching avidly on Wednesday.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - Excitement is growing across Japan that the country's players could prove their Rugby World Cup win against South Africa is no fluke when they face Scotland on Wednesday night local time.

Saturday's 34-32 victory over the 1995 and 2007 world champions provided a huge and timely lift to national spirits and allayed fears of losing hosting rights to the troubled 2019 tournament.

The recent decision by the cost-cutting government to scrap plans for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic stadium has left rugby officials scrambling to find a new venue for the final amid concerns over the country's ability to stage the event.

One organiser of a public screening of the match at a cinema in Higashi Osaka, one of the venues of the 2019 World Cup, said rugby fever had taken off since Saturday's amazing victory.

"After the win, we received a lot of calls about the event from people, especially those who were not interested in rugby before," he said of the Scotland clash in Gloucester, which kicks off at 10.30pm local time.

"I hope Japan's great performance over there will lead to further enthusiasm in the sport before we host the World Cup in 2019," he added.

Japan's newspapers, where sports pages are normally dominated by their players' exploits in US Major League Baseball, were ramping up the enthusiasm for the normally low-key game of rugby.

People who confessed they knew little about rugby before Saturday's historic win said they would be watching avidly on Wednesday.

Staff at Tokyo sports bars are preparing for a bumper night.

"Usually, we have not seen so many fans for rugby games but we are preparing in case the floor is filled with people tonight," said one employee at a sports bar in Tokyo's Roppongi entertainment district.

Japan rugby shirts were reported to be selling out fast at sportswear shops and were also topping the sales charts at online shopping site Rakuten.