Rugby World Cup host Japan kicked off the first Rugby World Cup in Asia with victory against Russia on Friday as the game attracts new converts outside its traditional heartlands in Europe and the southern hemisphere.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was one of the home fans who went out in red and white replica shirts as Kotaro Matsushima’s hat-trick ensured a 30-10, bonus-point win against Russia at Tokyo Stadium.
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The glamorous opening ceremony had children representing the 20 competing teams belting out the World Rugby anthem “World in Union” before former New Zealand, All Black skipper Richie McCaw show the glittering Webb Ellis Cup to the public.
Prince Akishino was the one who officially declared the competition open, with World Rugby chief Bill Beaumont saying: “This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for… We can all be very proud tonight. You have made history.”
The World Cup which was scheduled to originally last for six-week, promises to be one of the most open in the history of rugby competitions, with almost all teams appearing strong enough to deny All Blacks the hope of third straight title.
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The organizers wish that stars such as All Black Beauden Barrett, Ireland’s Johnny Sexton or South Africa’s Siya Kolisi will spark enthusiasm for the game in Japan and Asia more widely.
The early signs are good towards the tournament, with officials saying the tournament should be a complete sell-out and a staggering 15,000 fans coming out on a public holiday just to watch Wales train.