OITA – New Zealand will settle for nothing less than winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, but the team also wants to experience the local culture and entertain fans in the process, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters in Oita Prefecture, where his side will play one of its pool matches at the tournament, Hansen said his players planned to make the most of their time at the first World Cup staged outside a top-tier rugby nation.
“Clearly we want to come and win it,” the 2015 World Cup-winning coach said. “But we also want to enjoy our time here in Japan and get to understand the Japanese people and spend some time with them, so it’s very much about playing some good rugby, some winning rugby, and enjoying the culture of the country.”
The visit to Oita Stadium was part of a fact-finding trip around the country to inspect every match venue for the tournament, which kicks off on Sept. 20 next year.
Asked for his appraisal of the venue by local reporters, Hansen said the 40,000-seat stadium, home to J. League side Oita Trinita, was on par with other grounds around the world.
“A good stadium is a good stadium,” he said. “It’ll be ideal for the match that’s being held here.”
Known for their meticulous planning, the three-time champions have gone as far as incorporating Japanese language study into their World Cup preparations.
“We’re busy at home studying to see if we can learn some of it,” Hansen said. “For some it’s easy, for others it’s difficult.”
The All Blacks will open the tournament against traditional rival South Africa in Yokohama on Sept. 21 before traveling to Oita for a match on Oct. 2 against an opponent to be determined through a repechage.
They have just a four-day turnaround before facing an African qualifier in Tokyo on Oct. 6, with their final Pool B game coming against Italy in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture on Oct. 12.
If all goes to plan, the world’s No. 1 side will end its campaign winning the Nov. 2 final in Yokohama. Along the way, Hansen hopes to mix with Japanese fans and “play some rugby in front of people who we know enjoy rugby.”