Monday, 5 July 2004

After the laziness comes...

A proper post this week. Apologies for last week, but lethargy and apathy set in in a big way. I blame the weather, which has turned hot and humid, as is its won't in July. Also to blame was England's triumphal return to sporting mediocrity, with the football, rugby and cricket teams all losing, Robert Millar being kicked off the tour de france for drugs offences and the absolute drubbing of the England 1st XV Croquet (gateball) team by the Kawaguchi Irregulars (amateur) at the Saitama Super Arena on Thursday morning (possibly). Anyway, you get the picture. Luckily there were no loud mouthed antipodeans to rub in the salt, or octagenarian Japanese for that matter, so I survived and have come through the stronger for it.

However for sporting success I did turn to...

Japanese Rugby

Rugby in Japan has a long and glorious history. It has always been popular with universities and companies and has a lively following today, indeed Waseda university team is one of the most popular sports teams in the country, apparently. OK, so Japan has the record world cup thumping on its books, 145-17 against NZ a few years back, but I say well done for putting 17 points on them, its more than England managed in two games last month!

Anyway, up until this year, as rugby was only played by universities and company teams, it meant that there wasn't really much of a season to talk of, all very bitty, and when the companies played the unis, they thumped pretty spectacularly. (A little aside - strange thing about sports in Japan, all teams, in every sport, are basically formed, owned and run by companies, so the top baseball side, the Giants, is owned by the Yomiuri newspaper group, one of the Tokyo football teams (I think Verdy) is still nicknamed the 'Gasmen' as their are owned by Japan Gas, whilst the top rugby teams are Kobe Steel(ers), Yamaha and Suntory. Its all down, I think, to the idea that as an adult male in Japan you have to work for a company, even if you are a sportsman (or women). The idea of a non-company aligned team seems an anathema. I suppose it makes sponsorship easier to come by, but all seems a little soulless to me, but then again, who am I to judge)

So no real competition on the domestic front and, to be honest, not much competition from the rest of Asia, whom Japan regularly walloped, and so when those pluckly little banzai warriors
came up against the Europeans, Aussies and Kiwis, they had had little preparation and were walloped.

Not good.

So cunningly, this season, they invented the Top League, organised a season, levelled the playing field (as it were) and generally sorted their house out. So we had a jolly good season of rugby, I even watched a few matches on TV and they were all good fun, hell for leather, death or glory type affairs, a little lacking technically, perhaps, but more than made up for in passion and commitment. And one of the important things it did was to stop the one-sided 100-0 games and get a bit of tension and competitiveness in there, making the players improve their decision making under pressure and learning how to fight teams of equal strength.

This all has the desired affect as, in May, we had the somewhat optimistically named Super Powers Cup. Not, as you might have thought, with England, Oz or NZ, but with Canada, Russia and the US. But the important thing was that Japan won by beating Canada in the final, which I did watch, by about 30-20 with some pretty good play, especially up front.

"Now where is all this wittering going?" I can almost hear you muse.

Well, yesterday Italy were in town for a one off test match against Japan and so Steve and I, intrepid as we are, went down to the Prince Chichibu Memorial Ground in Gaienmae, Tokyo, to watch proceedings and assess Japan's progress (and get out of doing any study).

And what a fine afternoon we had. First up was the fact that we bought tickets in advance and so got a pair of tickets for only 2000 yen, or about 5 quid each - for a deal like that who isn't going to watch international rugby live? And it was a lovely hot and sunny day. Chichibu stadium will never be counted amongst the great world rugby stadia, but it is cosy and compact and was pretty much full for the game, so must have drawn in 20-30,000 punters, 99% of whom were shouting for the Japanese (not surprising, I guess...).

And we were treated to 80 minutes of attacking and skillful rugby, but most of it, as you've probably guessed, from the Italians. The Japanese were never really out of it, but then, they were never really in it either. It was summed up by a passage of play about 5 minutes or so into the second half. The score was 9-18 to Italy and Japan was camped on Italy's 22, hammering away at the defensive line when they broke through - I can't quite remeber if it was a deft pass or a re-gathered kick but Ohata was away and through. So he cruised up to the try line, no one around and with the rest of the Japanese players starting to celebrate, started his dive to score the try under the posts and...


dropped the ball. I mean really. At this level. Of all the things to do. Had he not, and the kick gone over, it would have been 16-18 and the game may well have followed a different course. But no, the silly bugger dropped it.

The final score was 19-32, not a complete drubbing by any standards, but one always felt that Italy were never really that stretched. They were happy, of course, and especially their loose head prop, Castrogiovanni, who scored an unlikely hat-trick and who will, if that sort of thing continues, be drummed out of the front row club and forced to become a back. So Japanese rugby is still trying to get there. It will, I think, mainly because it will continue to be popular and more money will flow into it and the players will become properly professional and therefore better, but I think it's going to take a bit more time.

All that was left was for Steve to kick over a beer and ruin the young lady in front's Louis Vuitton handbag - more fool her for taking it to a rugby match, I reckon.


The thyme and sage are having a most trying time. Light patches on the leaves that then develop little black spots, go pale and die, taking the plant with it. I looked on the net but couldn't find anything, answers anyone?

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