Rugby fever has swept the field in Japan after the national team gained its best-ever three wins at the Rugby World Cup 2015.
People who had barely heard of the sport a month ago are now starry eyed over team members such as fullback Ayumu Goromaru, whose impressive kicks won awe and captivated hearts.
About 25 million viewers — a fifth of the population — are said to have watched the Oct. 3 match against Samoa on TV, making it Japan’s biggest-ever audience for a rugby event.
When he is not winning admirers in the World Cup, Goromaru plays for Yamaha Motor Co. rugby team.
Jin Hasegawa, a Yamaha spokesman, said the national team’s stellar performance against South Africa led to requests from TV broadcasters for Goromaru to appear not only in sports programs, but also in variety shows. He said this reflects the sport’s surprise reach among the public in general.
“Access to the website of our club team used to be around 3,000 hits a day, but we earned 20,000 page views on the day Japan won over South Africa, and some 30,000 hits after the win over Samoa,” Hasegawa said.
He added that rugby fever is spreading among children.
“Until now, we only had one or two visitors a week who want to try taking a lesson, but since the World Cup started, we’ve seen the numbers rise by ten times.”
Yamaha runs a rugby school for children from the age of 5 and up to junior high school level.
He said children who take classes are now imitating Goromaru, putting their hands together in a gesture of concentration before taking a penalty kick.
Sogo & Seibu Co.’s flagship stores in Tokyo’s Nishi Ikebukuro, which initially planned to hold a rugby goods sales campaign from the end of September through Oct. 6, extended the event by a week, said company spokeswoman Noriko Abe.
Abe said the replica of the national team’s jersey sold out quickly. The other items on sale, roughly 70 in number, included the national team’s Atom mascot and goods related to the All Blacks, New Zealand’s winner of the trophy in 2011.
“Our profits were 30 percent higher than our initial target,” Abe said.
Yasushi Morita, manager of the Tokyo branch of a rugby shop chain operated by Tricolor Ltd., also said that all of their replica rugby shirts were sold out. “We’ve also since received a number of inquiries from people willing to buy the gear,” he said.
Morita said more people are buying gear not only as a tribute to the national team but also for actual practice.
“Since the beginning of the tournament, we’ve seen more people coming to buy rugby balls, including children interested in trying their hand at rugby and those who practiced the game years ago, willing to lace up their old boots and return to the field,” he said. “Many people have also been asking about the same green kicking tee as the one used by Goromaru.”
The Japan Rugby Football Union, which will host the Rugby World Cup in Japan in 2019, hopes the fever will not die with the final whistle of this year’s competition.
“There are about 106,000 rugby players in Japan, but we are hoping this (fever) will help us increase the number to about 200,000 — our target,” a union spokesman told The Japan Times. “We need it to strengthen the national team.”
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