All the world’s a stage as giants of the game prepare for an epic battle

first_imgFingers crossed, then. Because if the officials do find a decent balance and the body count stays low enough, this really should be a cracking tournament. From the clever promotional designs juxtaposing Mount Fuji with the Hinomaru – the “circle of the sun” on the Japanese national flag – to the 96% of tickets already sold, enormous efforts have been made to ensure Asia’s first Rugby World Cup hits the spot. Japan may already be eyeing the Tokyo Olympics next year but they relish big events and this one, weather permitting, could be huge.For some of the bonsai trees in the rugby forest such as Namibia, Russia and Uruguay, a nod of genuine respect from their peers will be enough. For the leading eight or nine sides, though, four years of hard labour are about to be distilled into one make-or-break examination. Some New Zealanders may be disconcerted their team are no longer on such a lofty pedestal but times are changing. England and South Africa have the depth and dynamism to prosper and neither Ireland nor Wales have entered a World Cup from such a position of ranking strength.My green tea leaves have narrowly picked the Boks as the likeliest champions: no pack containing Eben Etzebeth, Malcolm Marx, Pieter‑Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen will be casually brushed aside. Eddie Jones’s England, even so, could yet prevail if they channel their inner Rudyard Kipling and stay sufficiently calm when it matters. Whichever proud warriors conquer Japan, they will definitely have earned it. Reuse this content This matters more than ever given the lurking threat to the existing world order posed by the venture capital firm CVC, currently stacking up the casino chips of the professional game one by one. If their vision of the future merely involves a fat cat financial return for a few rather than better opportunities for the many, particularly in the Pacific islands, the 2023 World Cup could be a wholly less uplifting ball game. No one disputes that rugby needs more money to flourish but the cash cannot just be diverted into a few privileged pockets.For its own sake as much as for its curious new global audience, therefore, the sport needs this World Cup to capture the public imagination. It is all very well basking in the predicted record domestic televised audience for Japan’s opening fixture against Russia on Friday but if the product is unsatisfactory it will be the biggest missed opportunity since England bowed out prematurely from their home tournament in 2015. Without flashes of rapier blade and tactical wit to offset the relentless power and close-range bludgeon, the entire game will falter in the longer term. Share on WhatsApp Was this helpful? Show Photograph: Christophe Ena/AP Since you’re here… Russia’s players train at the Tokyo stadium on the eve of their opening game against the hosts. Photograph: Charly Triballeau/AFP/Getty Images Facebook Share on Twitter Particularly not this time around. The pre-tournament odds, for those allowed to place a bet, reflect the openness of the field, even if New Zealand remain the bookmakers’ favourites. South Africa, England, Ireland and Wales can all be backed at single digits and even Australia are 12-1 or higher. Never have so many northern hemisphere sides jostled for a title that, previously, has disappeared south seven times out of eight.There is a broader picture, too, that cannot be overlooked. Just now rugby union has a split personality: on the one hand breaking exciting new ground in Asia, on the other battling for its long-term future and, increasingly, its sanity. In the end, as the last samurai discovered, honour and tradition stretch only so far. Should this World Cup stumble into the abyss of multiple injuries, hairline disciplinary outrage, positive dope tests and lopsided margins, it will be the most untimely and costly of descents. Twitter Rugby World Cup 2019 stadium guide • Fixtures, tables and results• Top try and points scorers• Stadium guide• Referee guide• Our latest minute-by-minute live reports• Sign up to The Breakdown, our free rugby union email newsletterTeam guidesPool A: Ireland, Japan, Russia, Samoa, ScotlandPool B: Canada, Italy, Namibia, New Zealand, South AfricaPool C: Argentina, England, France, Tonga, USAPool D: Australia, Fiji, Georgia, Uruguay, Wales features Hide Topics Read more Share on Pinterest Rugby World Cup: fans give their previews and predictionscenter_img Quick guide Our Rugby World Cup 2019 coverage Thank you for your feedback. Pinterest England rugby union team Rugby World Cup Share via Email … we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading and supporting The Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many new organisations, we have chosen an approach that allows us to keep our journalism accessible to all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford. But we need your ongoing support to keep working as we do.The Guardian will engage with the most critical issues of our time – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, we believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity at its heart.Our editorial independence means we set our own agenda and voice our own opinions. Guardian journalism is free from commercial and political bias and not influenced by billionaire owners or shareholders. This means we can give a voice to those less heard, explore where others turn away, and rigorously challenge those in power.We need your support to keep delivering quality journalism, to maintain our openness and to protect our precious independence. Every reader contribution, big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. In theory a proactive spectacle should be simple to encourage. All the referees have to do is uphold the existing relevant contents of the law book and be particularly firm on those teams (currently everyone) who rush up miles offside and steal every last inch of available playmaking space. Appealing to the referee, screaming for decisions, blindsiding unprotected bodies around the fringes of rucks, tiresome scrum resets … none of it helps rugby to sell itself as an irresistible, forward‑looking sport on an upward curve.A tournament in which pace and athleticism end up outflanking brawn and angst would, therefore, be ideal. Imagine the instant impact, too, if South Africa kick off Pool B on Saturday with an exhilarating win against the defending champions, New Zealand, in Yokohama? Or if Fiji shock Australia in Sapporo? What if Scotland rip it up against Ireland on Sunday and Japan dazzle in their curtain-raising opener? No one will be describing rugby on Monday morning as dull, formulaic or fatally flawed should the early pool games deliver.Clearly it would also help if television match officials are slick, decisive and understand that endless slow-motion replays can make collisions look far worse than they actually are. Players who strike opponents on the head nowadays, accidentally or not, deserve little sympathy but the margins are horribly slim. While player safety is paramount, consistency will be equally vital. Japan rugby union team Rugby union Support The Guardian Read more New Zealand rugby union team South Africa rugby team Share on LinkedIn Rugby World Cup 2019 The ancient samurai warriors of Japan were more than just loyal soldiers. They believed in honour above life and were famous as much for their spirit as their distinctive swords. Put them in a pair of boots and a gumshield and they would have felt a sense of kinship with all 20 competing squads awaiting the start of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.That notion of sacrifice in pursuit of a higher ideal, in this case the holy grail of global domination, remains one of the touchstones of modern international rugby union. In few sports are pleasure and pain so inextricably linked, where supreme resolve, character and resilience are basic requirements. No one wins seven Tests in seven weeks by fluke nor lifts the Webb Ellis Cup by happy accident. Share on Messenger Share on Facebooklast_img

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