SHIMABARA, 1 Oct – Yoann Huget had given his all, as usual, and the sheer relief of the result was immense. But that was not why the France winger dropped to the ground and stayed there after the final whistle of the 23-21 victory over Argentina at Tokyo Stadium on day two of Rugby World Cup 2019 – a Rugby World Cup like no other.

Like the sell-out crowd of 44,000, he felt that he was part of something special. "I sat down on the pitch after the match to savour it," said Huget. "I took advantage of the moment. It was important – sometimes you don’t savour the moment enough.

"I could have been in any great stadium in the world and you can tell the public are responding. I didn’t expect that.

"It’s a special, festive kind of atmosphere. And at the schools we’ve visited, or the Fanzones or at the tourist sights, you can feel there’s a growing enthusiasm for rugby. It was a real surprise."

Ten days and 15 games on from that moment, it is safe to say that the first Rugby World Cup to be staged in Asia has already been a big success, and we are not even halfway through the Pool stage.

The host nation’s stunning victory over Ireland has raised interest by several more notches, not only around Japan but globally.

The on-field action is only part of the story, though. The success of the opening two weeks can be measured off the pitch as well as on it, away from the stadiums as well as inside them.

More than 630,000 spectators (an average of more than 35,000) have watched the 18 matches to date, as far apart as the Sapporo Dome – closer to Vladivostok, in Russia, than Tokyo – and hot and humid Fukuoka, even farther away from Japan’s capital on the island of Kyushu.

That figure will rise to more than 700,000 after Wednesday’s two games: France against the United States in Fukuoka and then New Zealand, chasing an unprecedented third successive crown, against Canada in Oita.

In all 12 stadiums at RWC 2019 two things have been consistent: the warmth of the welcome and the appreciation by travelling fans for the show being put on in Japan.

There is more to the tournament than winning matches. It is about being able to experience and enjoy a culture, language and way of life which, for most, is something completely new, and about Japan embracing all that rugby fans are bringing with them.

Just listen to what Conor O’Shea, Steve Hansen and Eddie Jones, coaches of Italy, New Zealand and England, have had to say - and what the players are staying, too.

O’Shea, whose side have played in Hanazono and Fukuoka, said: "You get an energy that people want you to be here. 

"When you’re walking down the street, in the hotel, they will do anything for you. It’s been an incredible World Cup and the people have been incredible everywhere we have gone.

"It’s heartfelt when the players go to the crowds at the end."

Teams have not just been saluting their own fans, they have been lining up to bow to the crowd at game after game. The respect is mutual.

Hansen was struck not only by Japan’s performance in beating Ireland, but what happened afterwards.

"Thirty minutes after the game had finished they were still in the stands celebrating. That’s great for the little kids here who want to play the game and overall great for rugby."

Jones, a former coach of Japan, was effusive in his praise of people in the northern island of Hokkaido after England’s win over Tonga there.

"What a great thing for rugby," he commented. “We are part of this historic World Cup and it makes you feel special. We’re so appreciative."

Huget’s team-mates, Camille Chat and Maxime Machenaud, have expressed similar feelings. Chat said: "It’s cool. It’s nice to come to a country that doesn’t necessarily have a popular rugby culture. It’s always great to explore a new country and it’s a beautiful country, too.

"I’m very pleased to be here, to explore the richness of Japan."

Machenaud added: "Almost all the stadiums are full – it’s hard to believe. And it’s a bit different from other international tests I’ve played.

"For matches in the Six Nations, for example, the home team’s supporters are in the majority. Here, they are from both sides and... there is a great atmosphere."

Inspiring the next generation is paramount to World Rugby, the sport's governing body. Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said it was a bold decision to award the tournament to Japan 10 years ago – six years before their unforgettable, ground-breaking triumph over South Africa in England.

He writes, in a welcome statement for all match programmes, that the decision recognised the "clear and compelling opportunity to unlock the rugby potential of Japan and, by extension, the potential of the world’s most populous and youthful continent.

"From full stadia, to packed Fanzones and welcoming host cities, everyone will play their part in rugby’s greatest celebration."

It goes beyond host cities, however. Warm-up camps allowed teams to immerse themselves fully in local communities, and they have continued to do so between matches. 

Wales are so popular in Kitakyushu they were watched by 15,000 - who sang in Welsh - just for a training session. 

Tonga have been based in the small seaside city of Shimabara, east of Nagasaki, this week and spent an afternoon coaching and having fun with schoolchildren.

When they play France on Sunday in Kumamoto, the furthest south of all the stadiums being used and a ferry ride away from Shimabara, more than 200 of those schoolchildren will be there to cheer them on, doubtless all wearing the red T-shirts they were given by the Tonga team.

And it really was something when one child approached Tonga's 155kg prop Ben Tameifuna, the biggest player here in a sport of very big men, and hugged him. Japanese people, so courteous and respectful of each other and visitors, rarely do that. 

So, Japan has literally been opening its arms to the rugby world.

RNS mg/bo/ns/rm