UPDATED 1 October 2017: South Africa’s chances of hosting the 2023 Rugby World Cup received a major boost this week when World Rugby endorsed their bid as the best of the three aspiring host nations. Before that though, the Springboks will have to duty at the 2019 installment of the 100 year-old tournament.
Thousands of South African fans will be getting behind their boytjies once the tournament kicks off – and some are getting their passports ready to make the trek to Japan.
Whether you’ve bought your plane tickets already or you’re still trying to convince the wife/husband/mother/father that a holiday to the Orient is just what you need, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to international rugby’s crowning showpiece to help you plan your adventure!
The country: Japan
The Land of the Rising Sun, home to ninjas and samurai, and the birthplace of sushi, Japan lies in the Pacific Ocean just off the eastern coast of the Asian continent. The country is home to 127 million people and is made up of four main, or ‘home’, islands: Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku. Together, these islands covers almost 380 000 square-kilometres (the size of the Northern Cape) and are divided into 47 districts, or prefectures.
Mountains, forests, sprawling cities and ancient temples – Japan is a diverse and beautiful country with plenty of sights and attractions to keep you busy on your road trip.
Springbok fans will still be stinging from Japan’s historic victory over South Africa at the last installment of the World Cup in the United Kingdom, where the Brave Blossoms shocked the two-time competition winners 34-32.
However, Japan made sporting headlines decades before for successfully hosting the 1972 Winter Olympics, as well as co-hosting the 2002 FIFA World Cup with Korea. The proud sporting nation will also host the 2020 Summer Olympic games, which will see the inclusion of a number of new sports including Rugby Sevens and Surfing.
The Weather: Autumn
The World Cup is scheduled to take place over September and October, just as the seasons in Japan change from Summer to Autumn. The typhoon season should be just about over, which should mean that the humidity levels will return to normal, and the Japan’s winter snows usually hold out until November, so the weather should be warm and pleasant.
Pool A: Ireland, Scotland, Japan, Europe 1, Playoff winner
Pool B: New Zealand, South Africa, Italy, Africa 1, Repechage winner
Pool C: England, France, Argentina, Americas 1, Oceania 2
Pool D: Australia, Wales, Georgia, Oceania 1, Americas 2
Who they’ll play:
20 teams contest the rugby’s biggest showcase. The top three teams in each pool at the end of the pool stages of the 2015 event were awarded automatic qualification for the 2019 competition. These teams were allocated the the top three spots in the four pools according to their seedings on the IRB’s World Rankings as of May this year.
South Africa had their worst year in a decade in 2016, which saw them drop down to 7th on the rankings, and they subsequently drew New Zealand, the Number 1 team in the world, as well as Italy in their pool.
The remaining 8 spots are determined by regional tournaments. Oceania, which includes Pacific Island nations like Tonga, Fiji and Samoa, were granted two berths. Countries from North and South America will also battle it out for 2 berths, while Africa and Europe were allocated a single berth each.
While the Springboks ran the All Blacks tantalisingly close in their 2015 semi-final, and the current crop of South African players looks like they might have what it takes to cause an upset against their antipodean rivals, you’ll be hard pressed to find a bookkeeper who’ll give you good odds on that bet. While encountering current world champions New Zealand so early in the competition may seem like a tough pill to swallow, it’s actually a blessing in disguise: teams are safe from being knocked out in pool stages, and the two teams with the highest points in each pool after the four pool games will be sent through to the quarter-finals. This means that even if the Springboks lose to the All Blacks, they can still move to the next round if they come second in the pool. That might not be as simple as it seems though, if Italy has anything to say about it…
A few years ago, the prospect of facing Italy would have had Springbok fans licking their lips. All that changed in 2016, however, when the Azurri recorded their first ever win over their highly favoured South African counterparts in a landmark 20-18 victory – just one of the many ‘firsts’ recorded by the Springbok class of 2016. Silver linings abound though: any South African fan would gladly accept the loss to Italy if it means South Africa go into the 2019 tournament without a sense of complacency. With this in mind, don’t be surprised if the Boks win comfortably against Italy.
14 countries from all over the continent – including Botswana, Zimbabwe and Nigeria – will fight it out for a single spot in the tournament. None of this should matter though, as Namibia is the clear front-runner to take the spot, and unless there’s a major upset (always possible, just read up a little) they’ll be taking on the Springboks in Pool B. The two teams have faced off numerous times, with many Namibian internationals plying their trade in South Africa. No unknowns here, and another (easy, hopefully) win for the Boks.
This could really be anyone: Tahiti, Brazil, Senegal, or twenty others – it’s all very complicated. Four teams will contest a round-robin competition: the runner up of the African qualification and the loser of the Americas Repechage play-off, as well as two teams from the Europe and Oceania play-offs. It’ll all be settled by the end of 2018.
If the Boks win their pool, they’ll be looking forward to a quarter-final clash with the runner-up from Pool A – probably Japan, but maybe Scotland. In the more likely event that they come second in their pool, they’re probably going to come up against Ireland. The Irish have developed a habit recently of raining on other team’s parades – in the last two years, they’ve ended both the All Black’s and England’s winning streaks before they could break a record 18 matches, and they embarrassed the Springboks 2016 when they beat them at home for the first time (those firsts again). A tough battle awaits, but despite some giant-killing performances, the Irish team isn’t what it once was, and the smart money would be on the boys in Green and Gold taking down the men with the shamrocks on their breast. After that, a semi against Australia seems a likely possibility, and then…? A chance to avenge a pool defeat against the All Blacks? It has a certain poetic justice, doesn’t it?
Now that I’ve got you salivating about the possible match-ups, I’ll go ahead predict who’s going to get the biggest hit of the competition – your wallet. There are some countries in Asia have an exchange rate that will make any South African student on a gap year weep with joy… but Japan isn’t one of them.
1 South African Rand will buy you just over 8 Japanese Yen.
A flight from Johannesburg to Tokyo will cost you around R8000 if you book now, but expect that number to grow steadily as the event draws closer and tickets get snapped up.
You’ll have to apply for a temporary visitor’s visa before your trip – it’ll cost you R405, and you’ll have to provide a daily schedule of the places you’ll be visiting as well as your accommodation details. Visit the Japanese Embassy in South Africa’s website for more details.
There are plenty of ways to get around Japan, and they can cost you quite a bit: a pass on their world famous high speed trains will set you back between R3500 and R6000 depending on which pass you get, and a domestic flight from Tokyo to Osaka will cost about R1800. Buses are available between major cities, coming in at about R550 for the same trip, but the journey will take significantly longer (10 hours in total).
Japan, being an island, has limited space available and that pushes the price of accommodation up. A bed in a hostel dorm will cost around R240 a night, and hotel rooms start at R600 a night. These prices are likely to increase with the influx fof rugby fans into the country, so bookin early is essential.
Food and drink:
Eating sushi everyday will punish your bank balance (much like in South Africa) but if you’re careful you can get away with spending under R200 a day on food.
These haven’t been released yet, but using the ticket prices at the 2015 tournament as a yardstick, you can expect tickets to cost from around R1000 for the pool stages to a whopping R12 000 for the final! If the Springboks make it that far, and you watch every game they play, you could be spending as much as R40 000.
Total for a the whole tournament:
+-R75 000. Ouch.
Where they’ll play:
The list of venues was announced way back in 2015, as well as the games they’d be hosting, but teams have not had venues allocated to their specific games yet. Until they are, here’s a list of the venues the Springboks could play at, and some things do while you’re there!
Where is it: Sapporo City
Stadium Capacity: 41,410
Interesting fact: Sapporo City is the capital of the Hokkaido prefecture, and a gateway to the nearby Hokkaido Mountains. Sapporo City became world-famous when it hosted the 1972 Olympic Games. The area’s snowy mountains are the perfect place to practice your skiing and snowboarding skills!
Things to do: By Niseko Ski Resort is Japan’s #1 snow resort, and
Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium
Where is it? Iwate Prefecture/Kamaishi City
Stadium Capacity: 16, 187
Things to do: Kamaishi’s rugged coastline falls within the Sanriku Fukkō National Park, and is made up of four large bays. The Sanriku Fukkō National Park was created after the devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
Kumagaya Rugby Ground
Where is it? Saitama Prefecture/Kumagaya City
Stadium Capacity: 24,000
Things to do: Cruise along in a traditional river boat in Nagatoro, and be amazed by the blue mountain peaks and autumn colours!
New National Stadium Japan
Where is it? Tokyo
Stadium Capacity: 49,970
Things to do: This topic would take up a whole post on its own! For starters, check out the Tokyo’s most popular temple, Sensō-ji. According to legend, the golden image of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy, was pulled out a nearby river 1500 years ago.
International Stadium Yokohama
Where is it? Kanagawa Prefecture/Yokohama City
Stadium Capacity: 72,327
Things to do: Check out the Cup Noodles Museum, created in honour of the famous instant ramen brand.
Ogasayama Sports Park Ecopa Stadium
Where is it? Shizuoka Prefecture
Stadium Capacity: 50,889
Things to do: Take a stroll through the Hirono Beachside park while the kids play in the pirate ship-shaped playground!
Where is it? Aichi Prefecture/Toyota City
Stadium Capacity: 45,000
Things to do: Why not check out the Toyota Exhibition Hall, and get a tour of Toyota’s global headquarters.
Hanazono Rugby Stadium
Where is it? Osaka Prefecture/Higashi Osaka City
Stadium Capacity: 30,000
Things to do: Visit Yoshino Sushi, a 200 year-old restaurant famous for its Osaka-style ‘pressed’ sushi.
Kobe City Misaki Park Stadium
Where is it? Kobe City
Stadium Capacity: 30,132
Things to do: Try a famous Kōbe beef steak at Kōbe Plaisir. The local branch of the Japan Agricultural Cooperative provides the ingredients – this is the real deal!
Hakatanomori Football Stadium
Where is it? Fukuoka City
Stadium Capacity: 22,563
Things to do: Visit Zauo and catch fish for your supper – staff will give you your own equipment and you catch fish from the tanks surrounding the tables.
Kumamoto Prefectural Athletic Stadium
Where is it? Kumamoto Prefecture/Kumamoto City
Stadium Capacity: 32,000
Things to do: Get your conquerer on at Kumamoto-jō, one of Japan’s most famous castle’s. It was built 400 years ago by daimyō Katō Kiyomasa, and you can even see the shape of his hat in the design!
Where is it? Oita Prefecture
Stadium Capacity: 40,000
Things to do: Visit Peace Park, which contains the 10-tonne Nagasaki Peace Statue.
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