Postcard from Japan – Joe Loughran
Picking up from where Andre left off, we are in recovery mode between the first and second match.
Ireland v Scotland was a great start to the tour, with green shirts and tartan as far as the eye could see. We strongly refute Andre’s inference that we are always late – just occasionally… and he did seem happy enough with his carafe(s) of wine while he waited!
So with a few days after the first match to see the sights, we ventured west (or possibly north) to the other coast – Kanazawa for a bit of culture. There was a large castle, traditional Japanese garden (apparently one of the best in the country), and an ice cream while we watched the kimonos walk by.
And while we cooked our own dinner, there was plenty of time to reflect on the demolition of Scotland, and preparation for the weekend when we take on the best that 126 million Japanese can muster.
Not content with the castle etc, my wife decided we must see Mt Fuji. So the next day we were back on the train, heading south towards the Big Famous Mountain, where I was promised a hotel on a hill (she omitted to mention it was a 30 minute climb), and fantastic views. Mt Fuji is an elusive fella, generally found hiding behind clouds and annoying the hell out of tourists who’ve travelled for miles. But see it we did, so another one ticked off the list. Nice cycle around a whale-shaped lake while we waited patiently for the clouds to part, and cycling off the alcohol from previous days.
On return train from the Big Mountain, breaking news on RTE informs us that Schmidt has made 5 changes to the team for the Japan match. Of note, Jack Carty to replace Sexton (ongoing injury concern? The wife reckons he may have broken another nail), Kearney and Earls to return and fight for their places, Chris Farrell (Ireland’s current best centre), and Jack Conan at number 8. (Conan subsequently out of the World Cup having sustained a broken foot in training).
Thursday 26th Sept was an evening of Welsh madness with a somewhat random Manic Street Preacher’s concert (are they funding their tour here? Nice work if you can get it). First half of the gig was poor – Big shout out (aka heckle) from Andre (we all agreed) – second half much improved, only for the news of Richard Keogh’s car crash to reach us. Duffy & Keogh both out and two qualifying games fast approaching. Damn or similar wording was used.
Match Day – Japan V Ireland Saturday 28th Sept 2019 in Shizuoka. Early train from Tokyo to travel to the stadium and soak up the atmosphere. We arrived at 9am – the fan-zone and food stalls did not open until 11am. I was advised there was not much to do near the ground and sure enough we had multiple cups of coffee and a burger to pass the time in the only open café. The Japanese owner let us in at 9.15am. Another example of Japanese kindness and hospitality.
Our two travelling companions joined us – Rhian Hughes – she of the Welsh shoes fame – and Gary Hughes – 50th Birthday today and all set to enjoy the occasion. A win today and then Ireland can rest our best players against Russia and Samoa.
Unfortunately the Japanese had not read that particular script and out-fought and out-thought us on the pitch for 80 minutes and deservedly won 19-12. The Samurai Warriors in front of us were delirious and even Godzilla to our left was ecstatic.
The inevitable Irish post-mortem to follow on the train journey back to Tokyo. Still, a cracking day and atmosphere and nice to be part of Japanese rugby history.
As ever, “win or lose we’re on the booze”.