The final time Japan performed a world match at Tokyo stadium, virtually 50,000 folks watched the best journey within the nation’s rugby historical past come to an finish towards an invincible Springboks facet who went on to raise the Webb Ellis Cup.
Japan was nonetheless basking within the glow of the 2019 Rugby World Cup when the coronavirus pandemic arrived and turned the sporting calendar the other way up. Since then, the Courageous Blossoms have performed simply two Checks, away to the British & Irish Lions and Eire, since their 26-3 quarter-final defeat by South Africa.
On Monday Japan’s sevens facet returned to the scene of their greater brothers’ honourable exit from a event by which they demolished Eire and Scotland and have become virtually everybody’s different favorite staff.
Solely this time, the red-and-white hooped plenty who had roared their staff into the historical past books and prompted discuss of a rugby revolution to return had been absent.
The Olympic sevens event, like most different sports activities at Tokyo 2020, is being performed at empty stadiums – a blow to native followers, however one many have come to simply accept as the worth of internet hosting an Olympic Games in the midst of a pandemic.
Outdoors the stadium, the folks of Chofu, a western Tokyo suburb, went about their mid-morning enterprise, presumably unaware that their stadium would be the centre of the rugby world’s consideration for the subsequent few days.
It’s laborious to overstate the distinction between the sevens’ silent openers at Tokyo 2020 on Monday with the heady camaraderie of the world cup, when cops directed followers in the direction of the venue slightly than away from it, and when the streets reverberated with myriad languages spoken by supporters fuelled by ice-cold beer and fried noodles.
“The dearth of rugby being performed in Japan within the final 18 months shouldn’t be the legacy that any of us had been in search of,” World Rugby’s chief govt, Alan Gilpin, stated throughout a break within the motion on Monday.
Recalling comfortable reminiscences of these six weeks, regardless of the loss of life and destruction wrought by Hurricane Hagibis, Gilpin added: “However we all know that what we now have as a legacy from the world cup is extra folks enjoying rugby in Japan and extra curiosity in rugby generally.
“Hopefully, the printed figures will present extra individuals are than ever earlier than. And I feel we’ll see that legacy construct from now. There’s large Japanese fan curiosity within the France 2023 World Cup.”
The actual problem, although, is not going to be to encourage the Japanese to get entangled as observers, however to maintain the momentum that created 2.25 million new rugby gamers in Asia, together with 1.18 million in Japan, earlier than and after the event.
An Olympic run by Japan’s sevens staff to match that of their counterparts on the World Cup can be the proper antidote to the empty seats greeting the boys’s and ladies’s groups in Tokyo this summer time.
Japan, in spite of everything, got here near turning into the story of the event when the sevens made their Olympic debut in Rio, beating France and New Zealand on the best way to the semi-finals earlier than dropping to South Africa within the bronze-medal match.
In Monday’s Pool B fixtures, the hosts threatened to select up the place they left off 5 years in the past, main Fiji 14-12 on the break earlier than the defending Olympic champions rallied to win 24-19 by two second-half tries from Waisea Nacuqu.
Within the second session, Japan had been crushed 34-0 by a Nice Britain facet that had already overwhelmed Canada 24-0 within the morning. Japan will now want a giant win over the Canadians, who misplaced 28-14 to Fiji, to make the quarter-finals as one of many high third-placed pool finishers.
“Popping out for the primary recreation is at all times thrilling,” Workforce GB’s captain, Tom Mitchell, stated. “It’s a little bit bit unusual in an empty stadium however it’s nonetheless a gorgeous place to play some rugby. We’ve waited for this chance for a very long time so there’s numerous pleasure, and I feel the fellows dealt with that basically, rather well.
“I’m simply so happy, particularly for the boys working out as first-time Olympians. It’s an enormous, proud second for all of us to see them obtain that, and a nod to the second-time Olympian old-heads doing it as nicely.”
Japanese rugby followers who had been there to witness the heroics of 2019 had been making an attempt to reconcile their disappointment at being shut out of the Olympics with concern over the current coronavirus surge in Tokyo.
“Individuals talked in regards to the Rugby World Cup as one of the best ever,” Hisayoshi Tanaka advised the Guardian. “I used to be actually trying ahead to all the things about Olympic rugby … the pre-tournament coaching camps, assembly followers from different international locations and them attending to know extra about Japan. After which the pandemic got here alongside.
“It’s such a disgrace.”