Rugby’s quadrennial jamboree kicks off here on Friday with the hosts expected to put on a show for the ages.
Ancient meeting modern will the thread that runs through the opening ceremony of a Rugby World Cup (RWC) in which the sport is hoping to break barriers‚ while reaching new frontiers.
The decision to bestow hosting rights on Japan may have raised eyebrows in 2009 but the game‚ so fastidiously rooted in the traditions of a long established few‚ can now finally embrace a new era.
Japan is the country tasked to see in rugby’s new dawn and already they are being referred as to as the land of the rising scrum‚ and that theme was all too evident with people waking up today to the sight of a scrum as the Google’s Doodle.
Japan is firmly in the grips of rugby fever with captain Michael Leitch’s face is all over key landmarks across the sprawling megalopolis of the capital city.
Whether you’re boarding a bus‚ a taxi or walk through an arrivals hall or mall‚ Leitch’s image is omni present.
On Friday evening (early afternoon in SA) a sell-out Tokyo Stadium and a huge global television audience will bear witness to an opening ceremony and match that is expected to send the host nation‚ who have wonderfully warmed to the staging of the tournament on their shores‚ into delirium.
Japan will get things underway against northern sea neighbours Russia in a match that they will hope will lay the foundations for a path to the quarter-finals.
This tournament needs this to happen‚ as does all of rugby.
That of course is the biggest concern in bringing a RWC to a territory outside of the game’s tier one nations‚ but Japan has the infrastructure but crucially also the populace that easily warms to and enthuse about an occasion.
They are already fully in Halloween mode.
With Japan expected to get the party going against the Bears‚ the tournament rapidly shifts through the gears on a Super Saturday of fixtures with Australia playing Fiji‚ France meeting Argentina‚ before South Africa gets their campaign underway against long-time foes New Zealand.
On Sunday‚ in a match of almost similar seismic scale Ireland play Scotland before England get going against Tonga.
First‚ however‚ all eyes will be on Japan who doesn’t just carry the hopes of a nation‚ but that of a continent‚ if not all of rugby outside the game’s tier one elite.
This celebration is said to be a world in union but it all too often reminds of the great divides that remain in the game.
Rugby has taken only small steps in popularising itself since the first RWC in 1987. One can argue maybe only two more teams can now realistically win the tournament.
Moreover‚ dark clouds‚ far more threatening than those that breeze in on the back of a typhoon‚ are on the horizon for the sport.
The sale of equity in some of the game’s sure money markets is likely to drive a greater wedge between the game’s have and have nots.
The game is as fragmented as ever but maybe Japan 2019 can help turn the tide.
In Friday’s opening ceremony will be the story of a mythical dawn of time‚ rugby’s origins and its arrival in Japan‚ and the blossoming of RWC into today’s global showpiece.
World Rugby will hope this new dawn will not remain in the realm of myth.
SOURCE: TMG DIGITAL