TOKYO, 10 Oct - The scramble to snap up tickets for the Wales-Fiji match in Oita was so frantic that when some Wales fans came to book the accommodation to go with it, they clean forgot where they were going.
"The tickets went on sale in the middle of the night," said travelling Welshman Alcwyn Savage from Penpedairheol, Caerphilly.
"I booked our rooms to go with them – I was quite surprised by the good availability and low price - and went back to bed. It was only when I got up the next morning to let the boys know what I’d booked that I noticed I hadn’t got rooms in Oita – I’d booked for Hita!"
To be fair, the agricultural town – population 63,887 – is only 100km from the match venue, but while most Welsh fans were turning Oita into a small corner of Wales on the eve of the game, Alcwyn and friend Leo Poelman were left to create their own fanzone in Hita.
"It was a very quiet place, just a few bars and restaurants and no discernible bunting or RWC paraphernalia," he said of the picturesque town dubbed "Little Kyoto".
"The locals were all aware of the Rugby World Cup and were amazed to finally meet some rugby fans. One of them, a fireman, proudly told me that all four of his sons play rugby.
"They all knew Jamie Joseph, Warren Gatland and Sam Warburton, and recognised Eddie Jones because of the last World Cup. They laughed when I told them about our rivalry with England - Google Translate took a hammering.
"We saw at least two other Welsh groups out there so we weren’t the only ones to get it wrong."
Are you feline lucky?
Leo and Alcwyn did get to the match from Hita, but by heading straight for the stadium, they might have missed one of Oita’s most popular landmarks - the Giant Lounging Lucky Cat.
The city has really embraced the Rugby World Cup, and the enormous artwork, made of Japanese cedar, is at present holding aloft a wooden plaque in its giant paw proclaiming: "TRY!"
Cats have been considered lucky charms since ancient times in Japan and a few Welsh fans were seen milling around the sculpture on Wednesday lunchtime, perhaps hoping for some good fortune ahead of their match with Fiji. The giant cat was created in homage to local sculptor Fumio Asakura, who established modern sculpture in the country and was a feline fan.
Have you got anything Biggar?
RWC 2019 continues to break new ground. As souvenirs go, match programmes, ticket stubs and scarves pale into insignificance beside the memento one fan brought back from Oita Stadium – Dan Biggar’s shorts.
We're not going to ask how, we're not going to ask why but this young fan managed to get hold of Dan Biggar's shorts...— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 9, 2019
And he's absolutely delighted 🤣 #MyRugbyMoment #RWC2019
Credit: @ITVWales pic.twitter.com/irwvh7fbYv
The Welsh fly-half, pictured top, also threw his socks into the crowd.
An injury sustained against Fiji will keep Biggar out of Sunday's final pool match against Uruguay. While Warren Gatland might have concerns over his backup fly-halves, Wales's kit man will be delighted.
South Africa’s instant ambassador
Frederick "FC" van Wyk is used to serving his country as a policeman in South Africa’s Western Cape, but at the Rugby World Cup, he tackled a different task for his nation.
Van Wyk was on his way to International Stadium Yokohama with his son Matthew to attend the match between the Springboks and the All Blacks when he overheard someone saying: "What did you expect from South Africa?"
On closer inspection, Van Wyk found that a tent marked "Embassy of South Africa" was empty, so he stepped in.
“For over half an hour, I chatted about my own experiences in all the different parts of the country – about Durban, where my wife and I had spent our honeymoon; Johannesburg, where I had done most of my police training; and the Western Cape, with its pristine beaches from Blouberg to Strandfontein, vast range of fauna and flora and our world-famous mountains,” Van Wyk told South African website News24.
The Van Wyks were not able to celebrate a Springbok victory over the All Blacks, but they can be proud of their efforts outside the stadium. (Photos: Natasha van Wyk)
Up and over
It is the fly-half’s party piece of this World Cup – the cross-field kick-pass. Messrs Biggar, Lopez, Foley, Hastings and Carty have all fired up perfectly measured high kicks for their backs to chase and touch down. Here are the best five of RWC 2019 so far.
Big in Japan, part 15
Namibia are hoping victory over Canada on Sunday will inspire the next generation of Welwitschias to greater success in Rugby World Cups, and if Ueveura Katjirua is anything to go by, the southern African team will soon be a force to be reckoned with.
Windhoek Gymnasium student Katjirua, visiting Japan during RWC 2019, has already represented Namibia at U15 level and at 15 years of age is determined to play for the senior side.
"I only started playing rugby two years ago but this has inspired me to focus and work hard. I don't hope to make it to this level. I will make it to this level,” he declared.
On his travels he met Namibia and London Scottish player Tjiuee Uanivi and, as the image above demonstrates, is more than a match for the 201cm, 101kg second-row.
"I didn't know they made 15-year-olds that big,” said Uanivi.
For the record, Uanivi is the one on the right.
Springboks lift the spirit of rugby in Kobe
The Springboks, fresh from booking their place in the quarter-finals, received an enthusiastic welcome when they visited Kobe Elementary School on Thursday.
The kids, waving South African flags, were fascinated by Springbok flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit, who, at 2m, could be the tallest person they have ever met.
Du Toit was accompanied by centre Lukhanyo Am, utility back Warrick Gelant and winger S’Busiso Nkosi.
Things really livened up when the Boks brought out the tackle bags and started lifting some of the children into the air for lineouts. The biggest roar came when one of the school officials missed the ball.
Am, above left, said the children had "a lot of energy", and Du Toit told the Rugby News Service: "It’s always nice to be back here with the children, to see how positive and passionate they are about rugby in Japan. It’s always nice to see the spirit here."
Sign of the times
Anybody receiving any signed Italy goods might want to take a close look at some of the autographs.
Azzurri flanker Braam Steyn let slip that one of the players’ favourite tricks at his club, Benetton Treviso, is to sign football players’ names alongside those of the rest of the squad.
If you do receive an autographed Italian shirt or ball, don’t be surprised to see Gianluigi Buffon or Francesco Totti’s names mingled in with the likes of Sergio Parisse, Tommaso Allan and Matteo Minozzi.
Stat of the day
Props Giosue Zilocchi and Danilo Fischetti, drafted in after Italy’s defeat by South Africa, travelled 9,600km from Parma to Toyota City to play zero minutes of rugby after their final pool match against New Zealand was cancelled ahead of the anticipated arrival of Typhoon Hagibis.
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