Canucks sign off with gesture of goodwill

Despite the disappointment of being denied a swansong, Canada's players were happy to roll up their sleeves to help locals with Kamaishi's typhoon clear-up.

KAMAISHI, 14 Oct - Like so many other people, Canada's rugby team weathered a rough night while Typhoon Hagibis blew outside. As howling winds and rain pounded their coastline hotel, doors had to be sealed with towels to prevent water pouring through. 

But for the players, the bigger hit was yet to come. In the head coach’s room at 6:30 on Sunday morning, they learned their Pool B match against Namibia, their best and last chance to earn a win at Rugby World Cup 2019, was cancelled.

It was a blow, especially to those ending careers at the tournament, but with the disappointment also came a deeper understanding of Kamaishi's history, and within a few hours, players were out on the streets helping with the clean-up operation.

"We heard stories about what happened here eight years ago, and to be here for another natural disaster, we felt that we had to come out," said full-back Andrew Coe. "It is the least we could do." 

The emergency warning issued for Kamaishi as a result of Hagibis, estimated to be the strongest typhoon to hit Japan in more than half a century, brought back memories of 11 March 2011 when much of the town was washed away by a massive tsunami. 

”Our hotel is right on the water and we could see the waves coming in," Coe said, describing how they hunkered down in the team hotel, one of the places flooded in 2011.

"We definitely can't understand what happened eight years ago, we weren't there, but we got a little glimpse of it." 

A rugby-mad town painstakingly rebuilt after the 2011 tsunami, Kamaishi had rejoiced at hosting one of the first matches of RWC 2019, Uruguay's dramatic upset victory against Fiji. Sunday's Canada-Namibia duel was the second and last match to be hosted by the town, but was cancelled because of safety concerns.

Full-back Patrick Parfrey, picked in the starting lineup, said it was a game the Canucks had been targeting. "A game I get to play with some guys who might not play any more, which is kind of heartbreaking because you want to play with them for their last game. We didn't get that closure, so it was very disappointing." 

The disappointment was not just confined to Canada, or Namibia, looking for their first World Cup victory, but also the locals. A 100-strong crowd trooped to the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium and waved fisherman flags at 12:15, the time the match had been scheduled to start. 

Canada has experienced highs of support throughout their seven weeks in Japan, starting with their pre-tournament training in small-town Nagato. Some residents followed the team south to their matches against Italy and New Zealand. For the players, most of whom are leaving the country on Monday, the post-typhoon clean-up was a last chance to thank the locals. 

Shovels in hand, the Canucks cleaned several side streets of the mud and debris left by the overflowing river nearby.

“This (typhoon) was much lighter and you can see the damage it caused," Parfrey said. "I couldn't imagine how devastating the tsunami was. It brought back to me how much trouble they dealt with. We were delighted to have their support and to be able to play here. It's unfortunate we weren't able to suit up and go out there."

Coe said: "When a typhoon strikes, and tragedy strikes, it takes a community to help out and rebuild, and we’re part of that community. I should apply for citizenship because I feel like I'm part Japanese." 

RNS ls/wh/co/sw