YOKOHAMA – New Zealand and South Africa fans got the party started early outside International Stadium Yokohama on Saturday afternoon, as two of rugby’s traditional heavyweights prepared to do battle at the Rugby World Cup.
“We’re flying home tomorrow, unfortunately, but we knew we had to catch the South Africa-New Zealand game — it was a must,” said Tafadzwa Kumbirai, one of a party of seven South Africa fans from Pretoria attending the game, having already been in Japan for a week.
“We were actually very lucky to get tickets because we didn’t organize much, but then there was a cancellation at the last minute and we were able to snatch them up. Now we’re here.”
New Zealand — a three-time winner of the Webb Ellis Cup and the current two-time defending champion — and two-time winner South Africa were both preparing to open their 2019 Rugby World Cup campaigns in Yokohama, with both teams among the favorites to lift the trophy at the same venue on Nov. 2.
Expectations were high from both sets of supporters as they soaked up the atmosphere three hours before kickoff, with predictions sometimes spiraling out of control amid the excitement.
“It’s going to be a close one — probably 58-7 to the All Blacks,” said New Zealand fan Richard Johnson, who was attending the game with fellow All Black supporters Angela Johnson and Kahureremoa Hoko and Ireland fan Patrick McHugh, who had all been in Japan for 15 days and were going home to Auckland the following Tuesday.
“I love it,” said McHugh. “I think it’s a great country, amazing. The people are so friendly and nice, and the weather has been behaving. We had a trek to Mount Fuji a few weeks ago. We did Mario Kart in Tokyo as well, and we went to Takayama. We’re definitely coming back.”
Some fans were entering into the spirit of the occasion by coming in fancy dress, including South Africa fan John Seccombe, who arrived in Springbok-themed karate gear along with his 14 colleagues.
“We make wine in South Africa and our importer here has invited us to the game,” said Seccombe, adjusting his headband. “We’re here for 10 days and we’re going to see one game.
“We’re all friends and neighbors and we make wine together, and we decided this would be quite a cool way to show our spirit. I hope the team can win. I think we can win. I think New Zealand are beatable, but I think it’s going to be a great game and it’s not over until the final whistle blows.”
Not all of the overseas fans attending the game were from the two competing countries.
Johnny Nas, Ben Wijnen and Pascal Rijkers — all from the Netherlands — were enjoying a leisurely beer on the steps outside the stadium before kickoff, with all three clad in All Blacks shirts.
“My mum and her family are from New Zealand, so we have to be for the All Blacks,” said Nas. “We’re here for almost three weeks. We’re going to see four games — New Zealand twice, an England game and an Argentina game.
“I love it. We’ve only been in Tokyo so far but it’s an amazing city. Every corner you walk round, there is so much stuff going on. We had dinner yesterday and there were a couple of All Blacks sitting next to us. That was cool.”