YOKOHAMA – Spectator Julian Cox jokingly said that he accompanied his wife, Katherine, to Japan for the Rugby World Cup because she is a goddess of victory for the national rugby squad of their native England.
It has paid off for the couple — the team booked a spot in the first tournament gold-medal contest since 2007 with a 19-7 victory over the two-time reigning champion, New Zealand, in Saturday’s semifinals.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be here now,” Julian said outside of International Stadium Yokohama minutes after the match was over. “We win some games, but to beat the All Blacks fairly comfortably, in a way that’s a surprise.”
The 59-year-old company employee said — again a little jokingly — he was “panicked” for most of the game because his side was competing against the three-time World Cup champions, and the opponents “can score from everywhere.” And it felt the clock was ticking slower for the two.
“When we scored in two minutes (with a try by Manu Tuilagi), you’re looking at the clock and it says 78 minutes to go,” Julian said. “You’re thinking, ‘Surely at some point, (New Zealand) are going to come back.’ And 10 (minutes) to halftime (with England still up 7-0), you’re thinking, ‘Wow, this is (an) unbelievable position.'”
And England, who had fared 0-3 against the All Blacks at the World Cup, ended up living up to the expectations of its fans, including the Coxs.
“I’m just overwhelmed by the performance of the England side,” Julian said. “I thought (New Zealand head coach) Steve Hansen just said in an interview: ‘Congratulations, England, you outplayed us.’ That’s it. That’s unusual.”
Like her husband, Katherine had jitters during the game. But she said that “it was fabulous” the Europeans came on top in the end.
“(Julian) brings me because I’ve never seen England lose,” Katherine, who had watched several games of England, said with a smile. So that’s why I got the trip to Japan.”
The pair, who traveled from the small village of Upper Layham, would miss the final and depart back home on Monday.
Another Englishman, David Poulter, said that, like the Coxs, he was “nervous” during the semifinal match but was impressed by how England competed and earned the valuable win.
“I think England played better than I’ve seen my whole lifetime,” said the 37-year-old company employee, who traveled with his Irish wife, in an excited tone.
Poulter said “it means everything” that England, which is the home of the sport, has been back in the spot to seek its first World Cup title in 16 years. England finished runner-ups in the 1991 and 2007 editions.
“Hopefully, we can go on and win it,” he said. “But obviously, it means nothing if you don’t win the big day.”
Meanwhile, it was clearly a tough day for the All Blacks and their supporters.
One fan from New Zealand said that it was “disgusting” his team would be playing on Friday for the third-place match, not on Saturday for the gold-medal contest. Yet he admitted that the opponents performed better in the evening.
“I think England, they were way better than us,” he said. On the night, they had more energy than us, and they outplayed us for the whole 80 minutes.”
A pair of Japanese women wearing All Blacks shirts were walking toward the nearby Shin-Yokohama Station with disappointed expressions, saying the result and the way the match was played were completely beyond their imagination.
One of the two, a 43-year-old from Kawasaki, said she had had “no doubts” New Zealand would bounce back after England scored a try early.
The other woman, a 30-year-old whose father is from New Zealand, stressed that the All Blacks usually get better in the second half, so she did not have worries either.
“So,” the Yokohama resident said, “I thought they would fight back later in the game, but …”
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5