YOKOHAMA – Australia and New Zealand fans are already looking forward to next year’s Rugby World Cup after getting a taste of the atmosphere in Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup game in Yokohama.
“It will be bedlam,” said New Zealand fan Brian King, who traveled to Japan to watch the match with his friends Paul Bright, Mike Green and Errol Hussey.
“We’ve been to four World Cups now,” he said. “As long as Japan knows what’s going to hit it, because there are just so many people who are positive about this game who will hit the whole country. They will want to go outside Tokyo and Yokohama and have a look at everything. So as long as the country is ready for the tourism part of it. It’s not all about the rugby.”
Saturday’s game at the stadium that will host the next World Cup final on Nov. 2, 2019, marked the fourth time that a game in Australia and New Zealand’s annual Bledisloe Cup series had been held outside of those two countries. Tokyo’s National Stadium staged a game in 2009, while Hong Kong also played host in 2008 and 2010.
The world champion All Blacks had already clinched the three-game series by the time both teams arrived in Yokohama earlier this week after victories in Sydney and Auckland, and rubbed further salt into the Wallabies’ wounds with a 37-20 win to complete a clean sweep.
Fans of both teams were simply happy to enjoy the occasion regardless of the result, however, with many taking the opportunity to combine the game with a holiday.
“I came over to visit friends but I’m staying for the game,” said John Hart, a 36-year-old pilot from Brisbane, as he stood with a group of green-and-gold-clad friends in front of Shin-Yokohama Station.
“I think it’s a good idea to have the game here, with the Rugby World Cup being next year. It adds a bit of interest. I know rugby is big over here but it’s good to have some international games. And being a Wallabies supporter, it’s good to take a bit of home-field advantage away from New Zealand.”
Fans of both teams mingled happily outside the stadium before kickoff, but the visitors were vastly outnumbered by Japanese fans excited by the chance to see two of the world’s top sides live in action.
“I came because of him, but I like the haka dance that New Zealand do before games so I’m wearing a New Zealand jersey,” said Kotoko Mitsui, pointing to her companion Michihiro Kitano, who was wearing an Australia jersey. “I also like the uniform and I like the fact that they are strong.”
Rugby World Cup organizers are currently accepting ballot applications for tickets from around the world, with the deadline set for Nov. 12. Kitano, who lives in Yokohama, explained that he had applied in around six previous ballots, but had yet to find success.
“I’m happy that I can watch this game live in Japan,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
As kickoff approached, however, one thing was playing on the minds of New Zealand fans King, Bright, Green and Hussey.
“I’m not 100 percent sure the Japanese people and the bar owners are quite used to the drinking culture of the visitors,” he said. “That could be an interesting challenge for them. They’re not used to the consumption.”
Green described rugby fans as “resilient” and “used to some poorly organized situation,” but none of the group seemed concerned about getting around in Japan during next year’s tournament.
“The people have been great, the transport has been good, the railway has been good, Uber’s been great, taxis have been great,” said Bright. “We think it will be easy.”