The city of Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, was presented with the Award for Character at the World Rugby Awards in Tokyo on Sunday, an evening that saw South Africa claim the major awards a day after winning the Rugby World Cup.
The Springboks edged Japan for Team of the Year, Rassie Erasmus beat the Brave Blossoms’ Jamie Joseph for the Coach of the Year trophy and Pieter-Steph du Toit was named the Men’s 15s Player of the Year.
At a star-studded ceremony, Kamaishi was presented with the award for honoring rugby’s core values of “integrity, passion, solidarity, discipline and respect,” as it used the sport and the Rugby World Cup to showcase its recovery from the disastrous earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, which claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people in the city.
“Because Kamaishi is a small town, it was a big challenge. But the citizens came together and we were able to start again with the support of people around the world,” said Kamaishi Deputy Mayor Hideki Yamazaki.
“Since our region was stricken by disaster, one objective of our activities as a host city was to convey our gratitude to people all over the world.”
Yoshihiko Sakuraba, general manager of Kamaishi Seawaves rugby club and ambassador for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, said, “For Kamaishi, rugby is a symbol of solidarity. We are proud to host Rugby World Cup and we will continue to form a tight scrum for the future.”
Kamaishi was supposed to host two World Cup matches. However, the second of two games slated for Kamaishi Unosumai Recovery Memorial Stadium, which was built on the site of two schools swept away by the tsunami, was called off due to Typhoon Hagibis.
The Canadian team, which was set to play Namibia in the canceled game on Oct. 13, stayed in the city to help with cleanup operations following the typhoon.
“Personally, I was so looking forward to the Canada-Namibia game that was canceled,” said Rui Horaguchi, a student who attended the elementary school that was located on the site of the new stadium.
“And though that cancellation was regrettable, both teams pitched in to volunteer in disaster relief efforts around the prefecture. And though they were unable to put on a game for us in Kamaishi, they still managed to put smiles on (our) faces.”
“I hope one day, the players from Canada and Namibia can return to Kamaishi to play a game there.”
Meanwhile, former Japan Rugby Football Union President Shigeru Konno was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame.
Masashi Konno collected the Hall of Fame cap on behalf of his father Shigeru, who died in 2007 after more than 50 years in different administrative roles within the JRFU and Asia Rugby.
South Africa captain Siya Kolisi collected the award for team of the year on behalf of the Springboks.
“I think it is probably going to sink in when we get home and see how people are back at home,” Kolisi said.
“They have really been driving us, they have been behind us. I think coach said it earlier — they have been a huge part of our success as a team and we are looking forward to going back home and celebrating with them.”
Erasmus, who will be stepping down as South Africa coach to return to his role as the country’s director of rugby, not only secured the Springboks’ third World Cup title but also led them to a first Rugby Championship win since 2009.
Under Erasmus, South Africa has only lost once in 2019, against New Zealand in its first match at the World Cup.
When he took over in March 2018, South Africa was ranked seventh in the world. The Springboks have since returned to their traditional forwards-based game with extraordinary results.
“This has been a long journey to keep believing and trusting and not getting frustrated with each other, keeping the belief going,” said Erasmus.
“For me, it is significant that, no matter what, the boys always kept South Africa above their own interests, above their own egos and always kept the Springboks and South Africa’s interests up there.”