With the world watching, Japan delivers

For four years the world laughed at South Africa after Japan sent a seismic shock across the rugby world … And fair enough, but the Springbok players I spoke to after the defeat said they had had a surreal feeling during the game that there was absolutely nothing they could do to stave off defeat, that they were playing against a third force, not just the Japanese.

That was apparent to me from the stands in Brighton – it seemed as if the whole world had united behind the underdogs and was willing them on. At half-time, the SA journalists present were unanimous that the Boks were going to lose. It just hung in the air …

I got the same feeling watching Ireland vainly trying to get back into the game against the Japanese in the final quarter. It was just never going to happen.

You could see it on the faces of the Irishmen. They looked beaten long before the final whistle and it was telling that they said afterwards that they knew exactly what was coming but could do nothing to stem the red and white tsunami.

There were 51 000 fans at the Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa for that match, obviously the vast majority locals, while 67 000 more Japanese flocked to the official fanzones.

They also tuned in their tellies to the rugby en masse, as they have since the tournament kicked off. With rugby mania sweeping the nation, the opening ceremony and match attracted a peak live audience share on Japan’s NTV of 25.5 percent in prime time, the biggest ever national audience figure for rugby anywhere, any time in the world.

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In week one alone, nearly 270 000 fans attended the 16 fanzones across the country, meaning the tournament is well on the way to breaking the fanzone record of one million set in 2015 in England.

It is not just in Japan that the World Cup has caught on. UK broadcaster ITV’s coverage of the opening match attracted an audience share of 20 percent and peaked at one million during its breakfast programming, while England’s opening match against Tonga (perfectly timed at 11:15am UK time on Sunday) peaked at 4.7 million while that day’s earlier encounter between Ireland and Scotland peaked at 3.2 million.

In France, Les Bleus’ opening match against Argentina, which kicked off at 9am on a Saturday, peaked at 3.1 million.

The Japan defeat of Ireland also gave the tournament a kick start after a relatively dull first round.

And after yesterday’s blockbuster between Wales and Australia, you have the feeling that the tournament has come alive.

Watch out for this Saturday’s big one in Pool C between England and Argentina.

The Mercury

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