Hagaki (Postcard) from RWC2019 Japan 4

Postcard from Japan – Joe Loughran/Gemma Bullivant

After doing what we needed to do against Russia, albeit ‘uninspiringly’ (thanks for that BBC Sport), we wait with bated breath for the fourth and final match to determine whether we advance to the knockout stage, and if so, whether we want to be shot or poisoned…. All Blacks or Springboks.

The usual post-mortem discussions included ongoing doubts over Sexton’s fitness, the Henshaw no-show, and Jordie Murphy’s popped rib. Happy days (not).

And so, fuelled with alcohol-induced optimism, we headed south to distract ourselves with some more cultural sights and sounds. From Kobe/Osaka, we headed to Kyoto, the historic capital of Japan. More temples than you can shake a stick at, kimono-clad Geisha everywhere, and a build-your-own-bed scenario.

Clearly there’s only so much culture we could squeeze in before the next rugby instalment, which involved taking a sitting through a very long Australia v Uruguay match, in order to secure prime seats for England v Argentina that followed, and then the highlight match of the day – Japan v Samoa. The locals were in fine voice and large numbers.

The Irish and Scots contingent supporting Samoa, though seriously outnumbered by the enthusiastic Brave Blossoms, both inside and outside the pub. The place positively rocked every time Japan scored, and the final score puts Japan ever closer to progressing to the knockout stage for the first time in their history.

A group of people standing in front of a crowd posing for the camera Description automatically generated

A group of people standing in front of a crowd Description automatically generated

So, with this result, it seemed likely that Ireland and Scotland would be competing for second place in the group, and with that the pleasure of playing the All Blacks next. At this point, while we knew a super typhoon was brewing in the ocean nearby, we didn’t know exactly where it would land, or the impact it would have.

So on we went to the next port of call… Hiroshima. A place that knows all to well about destruction on a huge scale. It was a sobering place. The Peace Museum is an absolute must for every visitor to the area. We headed there early to avoid the crowds and then took a walk through the Peace Park, to take it all in.

Only 30 minutes from Hiroshima is a fabulous island – Miyajima – and the perfect day trip to recalibrate after Hiroshima. It is home to arguably one of the most photographed shrines in Japan. It emerges majestically from the sea at high tide, as if floating on water, and is quite breathtaking from every angle.

The crestfallen faces of the tourists arriving by ferry with cameras at the ready said it all. The shrine was covered in scaffolding! Gemma decided not to be defeated by such inconvenience, and after a quick pit stop at a souvenir shop, proceeded to improvise at every photo opportunity…

And so it was onwards to the last match of the pool stages in Fukuoka. Safely out of harm’s way of the typhoon that was battering the country further north, we prepared ourselves for one last match. The usual madness of match day commenced. We had, by now, become accustomed to meeting Andre in a bar in an obscure, hard to find location. And this was no exception. Tucked neatly past ladies’ perfumes in the Fukuoka station shopping mall, we found him in a great bar, full of locals, who were joining in the excitement of the tournament (and no doubt still revelling in the victory over is in the previous week!)

After a sumptuous local delicacy birthday lunch (thanks Andre) for which I have solid witness statements that I ate it all with only a hint of an idea of what it was (back me up here Matt and Paul!) we went to the stadium for the final match.

Saturday 12th Oct 2019: Joe’s Birthday – 1 year short of the big 50. Ireland v Samoa (Rugby) and Georgia V Ireland (Football). A “sportstastic” day lies ahead.

After respectfully observing the impressive Samoan challenge, the Irish Team proceeded to get “stuck in” – a little bit too much by Bundee Aki (now out of the quarter final). High tackles are being heavily penalised in this World Cup. Despite playing for much of the game with 14 men Ireland ran out convincing winners 47-5.

Meantime, in Tbilisi – Georgia and Ireland play out a very uninspiring (boring) draw. Definitely a chance missed by the Boys in Green. Switzerland away next does not fill me with confidence.

Flying back to London tomorrow after 3 cracking weeks in Japan. Super Typhoon Hagibis is making its way up the coast towards Tokyo to wreak havoc.

The Japanese have been superb hosts and we are left with many fond memories. Definitely a country to return to in the near future.


Joe Loughran/Gemma Bullivant