From The Touchline - Tuesday, 24 September

Our Rugby News Service team take a walk on the blindside to find offbeat news stories, stats, anecdotes, and who said what to whom ...

TOKYO, 24 Sep - The All Blacks flew off from Tokyo on Tuesday to their new base in Oita, leaving behind one disappointed six-year-old lad who may just be their biggest fan in Japan.

Little Shota Watanabe is one of the legion of fans here who have fallen for the New Zealand team since they first played an international in Japan a decade ago.

Shota's dad, Yuta, took him to see the All Blacks beat Australia in Yokohama last year and the youngster was so entranced that he hasn't stopped following them since.

“He watches all their games on TV, gets All Blacks magazines and we took him to the team camp in Kashiwa three days running and then to the team hotel in Tokyo where he got his picture taken with the coach Mr Hansen and the players.” explained his mum Nami.

Shota’s so entranced by All Blacks fever that he has even perfected his own version of the Haka, as seen above

Asked to name his favourite player, his mum interrupted to suggest it was Beauden Barrett, but instead Shota started jumping up and down and crying: “Perenara, Perenara!” Yes, TJ, when you’re the leader of the Haka, it tends to make you irresistible.

But what happens if the All Blacks play Japan in the quarter-finals? “Oh, it’s the Cherry Blossoms first,” says dad Yuta. He’s not so sure about Shota, though.

 

Rice work, Kumagaya

Kumagaya, north of Tokyo, which was only included to stage Rugby World Cup games after more than 100,000 signed a petition, is revelling as hosts. On Tuesday, all the taxi drivers operating from its railway station were wearing the Japan Blossoms jerseys, above.

Kumagaya hit the headlines in recent times for a record high temperature of 41.1C, but the the RWC has given the city the chance to consolidate its status as the rugby town of eastern Japan with one rice field given a tournament theme, with the rice grown in several colours to produce a stunning piece of artwork.

 

The city has historical ties to the game and many top rugby players have graduated from the Kumagaya Technical High School.  

A tall order

Being 1.98m tall has its advantages on the field for Samoa second-row Filo Paulo, but not so off of it. He is quickly discovering that Japan is not exactly made for giants like him.

"You can feel it when you have to duck when you step into the bathroom," he said.

"But they have been very nice to us, I've got an extra piece of bed that they have put at the end of mine to sleep in." 

Scream 1, 2 3 and....

The mystery woman heard screaming throughout the broadcast of the Wales v Georgia game on Monday night has caused a twitter storm and drawn some hilarious tweets. One, below, said she sounded like she was undergoing surgery without anaesthetic in the stadium and wished her a speedy recovery.

Another said they closed their windows at home thinking the screaming was coming from the street. If she is not the loudest fan in Japan, she is surely the most annoying. Whether her vocal chords have the capacity to last the entire tournament is another matter.  

 

 

Yanks a lot, Ipswich

Ipswich, the Suffolk town in eastern England, is more renowned for its connection to football and Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson than producing international rugby players.

Ramsey, who managed England to win the 1966 World Cup, and Robson, both laid the foundations for Ipswich's most successful footballing era but the town has also played its part in the development of two players involved in the Pool C game between England and the USA on Thursday.

USA full-back Will Hooley and England flanker Lewis Ludlam played together at Ipswich Rugby club while they attended different schools there.

Ludlam now plays in the English Premiership with Northampton, while Hooley is in the second-tier with Championship team Bedford Blues.

Ludlam plans to catch up with Hooley after the game: “I grew up with him in the same town in Ipswich, so hopefully playing against him would be awesome," Ludlam said. "We were both at Ipswich Rugby Club and then he was at school 10 minutes down the road from me. It is weird he is playing for a different country.

"His family are from the USA so to run out against him would be surreal. He is a really good bloke. He is down to earth, he is a good leader and I am sure he is keeping those USA boys in place. He is a smart guy. I will save messaging him until after the game.”

A whisker away 

The usually bearded Dean Budd looked a new man when Italy announced their team play Canada at the Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium on Thursday.

With Sergio Parisse rested, it will be a clean-shaven Budd who steps into the captain's role. "I hope I'm not like Samson in the Bible," said the New Zealand-born second-row. "I hope I don't lose my power. It was just hot. There was not any other reason."

Love is in the air...

There is a romantic atmosphere at press conferences for France in Kumamoto - they are being held in a function room used for weddings.

Not a problem for flanker Wenceslas Lauret, pictured below. With confidence growing, the French - who next play USA on Wednesday, 2 October - reckon this RWC and them are a match made in heaven.

What a Wally

Australia’s Jordan Petaia may be one of the most exciting young talents in world rugby, but the 19-year-old is bracing himself for a fine.

As the youngest player in the squad, Petaia, pictured, has been charged with looking after Wally, Australia’s much venerated mascot (pictured below) ever since his first call up in 2018. And, so far, the poor furry fellow has had a tough ride.

"I lost it (surely it should be "him" Jordan?) in Odawara - I left it in the hotel somewhere," Petaia said on Tuesday, before confessing: "I think I lost it on the way to New Zealand as well - I can't keep track."

While 107-cap scrum-half Will Genia confirmed the team will deal with Petaia’s forgetfulness, he did reveal that the teenager is far from being Wally’s worst carer – that honour goes to centre James O’Connor. 

What's in a name

England winger Joe Cokanasiga’s full name is Ratu Josateki Tuivanuavou Waqanivalu Cokanasiga, which translates as "Chief Joe, King of the new place, the warship with spears of the sun". Better than Joe Soap, we suppose.

Battering the opposition

Scottish fish and chip shop owner Calum Richardson is battering the opposition with his award-winning fish and chips at RWC 2019.

Richardson, who runs the The Bay chip shop in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, has taken his North Sea haddock and secret recipe for batter to the fan zones and restaurants of the tournament's host cities.

 His business was voted Britain's best independent chip shop in 2013.

Did you know? 

New Zealand's Jonah Lomu (1995) and South Africa’s Bryan Habana (2007) share the record - eight- for the most tries in a RWC tournament.

Stat of the day 

If Canada's DTH van der Merwe scores against Italy on Thursday he will join Jonah Lomu as the only person to score a try in five consecutive World Cup games.

Quote of the day

"We slag him by saying he's a crash-ball merchant. He wanted to show a bit of flair so it was great to do that."
- Dave Kilcoyne (IRE) on centre Chris Farrell’s eye-catching no-look pass against Scotland.

RNS mj/ajr