And Then There Were Eight…

“What. A. Game…”

That must have been on everyone’s mind when hosts Japan defeated Ireland in the pool match earlier in the competition of the Rugby World Cup this month. Japan then went on to beat Samoa by a relatively comfortable margin before facing their Scotland, their second Six-Nation opponent in two weeks, in their final pool game.

And then, it happened again.

“WHAT. A. GAME!!!”

Defying all probable scenarios along with the relentless determination of the Scotland team, Japan defeated their second Top-tier team in two weeks by a score of 28-21. The points however, don’t do justice to the energy that accompanied the match, both from Japan and Scotland. After an early try by Scottish number 10 Finn Russell, Japan ended the first half in the lead 21-7. Another try early in the second half by Kenki Fukuoka had the Brave Blossoms ahead 28-7. Scotland came back with resolve which provided a spectacle of superb Rugby especially in the dying minutes of the game, when both teams exchanged bouts of physical fearlessness in attack and defense. At the end of the 80 minutes, Japan had accomplished the improbable and were four-for-four in the pool games and were through to their first ever quarterfinals ever in the competition.

Japan will be up against the Springboks in the knock-out stage, a team they notoriously defeated in the last World Cup. The QFs also see Wales up against France, England against Australia and the All Blacks up against Ireland. With a loss to Japan under their belt, Ireland are hopeful they peak at the right moment as they face the current World Champions in Tokyo on the 19th of October, especially with the absence of center Bundee Aki who was red carded and subsequently suspended for three games for his high tackle on Ulupano Seuteni in their earlier game against Samoa. Even despite Samoa Rugby’s plea to World Rugby to let Aki play, the governing body was resolute and Aki’s suspension will stick.

While the World Cup will be over for Aki due to suspension, it was over way too soon for Italy, Canada and Namibia whose games were canceled due to the devastating and hazardous threat that came in the form of Typhoon Hagibis. Although organizers had planned for years for the tournament, with all possible weather forecasts anticipated for, no one could foresee the freak of nature that ultimately turned out to be the worst storm to hit Japan in the last 60 years. Italy and New Zealand, Canada and Namibia as well as England and France each received two points due to their cancelled games but it was not enough for Italy, Canada and Namibia to go through to the next stage. In the spirit of Rugby and all that is good about the Game, Canadian players assembled the day after the typhoon to help with cleaning up the devastating aftermath the disaster left behind.

Such wonderful acts of sportsmanship as a reflection of Rugby could be seen throughout the tournament with fans anticipating more to come before the end of RWC 2019. Japanese fans made the event even more memorable by learning the national anthems to the different countries playing, singing along before the beginning of all the games. Canadian player Josh Larsen came into the South African changing rooms after their clash to personally apologize for his red card; an act that earned him admiration and a cold beer from the Boks and all those who have seen the video. The Tongan team bid farewell to their captain Siale Piutau by giving him the final conversion kick in their game against the USA, one which he slipped in between the posts to cheers from all those watching. Also bidding goodbye to the international game after this world cup will be Georgian legend Mamuka Gorgodze, France international Wesley Fofana, David Pocock of Australia with Greig Laidlaw of Scotland also said to be considering retirement.

Two weeks away from the Finals in Yokohama and despite punters and experts predicting an All Black three-peat already in the bag, we must remember how very risky it is to assume anything at a World Cup. Australia faces one of the most consistent teams in recent years in the form of England but we all know that the Aussies can be unstoppable on any given day. France, who have never won a World Cup but have made the Finals three times are looking to defy the odds and break the jinx at last. New Zealand have their eyes on the three-peat and Japan are just soaring on a high and look likely to ride the positivity for as long as they can. These are the Eight, all looking to be the One…

Who do you think the two teams will be to play in the Finals of RWC 2019?



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