After 10-year wait, hosts Japan ready to face Russia in World Cup opener

Japan rugby team head coach Jamie Joseph. (Reuters)
Updated 19 September 2019

After 10-year wait, hosts Japan ready to face Russia in World Cup opener

TOKYO: With the weight of an expectant nation on their shoulders and a governing body desperate for the hosts to succeed in the first Rugby World Cup in Asia, Japan head into the tournament opener on Friday under arguably more pressure than any other team.

Fortunately, head coach Jamie Joseph probably could not have picked a better matchup to begin their campaign as they prepare to face Russia, ranked 20th in the world and making only their second World Cup finals appearance, at Tokyo Stadium.

A big win for the home side is likely to be welcomed by World Rugby, who took a major risk in awarding the tournament to Japan 10 years ago, taking the World Cup out of the sport’s traditional heartlands for the first time.

They will be looking for a good early showing from Japan to build further excitement in the host country, who are already optimistic following the Pacific Nations Cup (PNC) triumph last month.

Japan now see themselves as too good for many of the other Tier Two nations and are looking to disrupt the established world order by reaching the quarter-finals for the first time.

Although the results against their other Pool A opponents Ireland, Scotland and Samoa will likely define Japan’s World Cup campaign, a big opening win in front of an expected record television audience will build belief that history can be made.

Joseph has been quick to dismiss the favorites tag ahead of Friday’s game, pointing out that Japan only managed to sneak a 32-27 win when they faced Russia in November.

“I never consider us to be the favorites, simply because … we have never been the favorites,” Joseph said on Wednesday.

“We have got a lot of respect for Russia and we were very lucky to win the last time we played them.

“I will say that the players are really excited, they have been waiting a long time, like everybody has in Japan, for the day to arrive.”

Japan were naive in a 41-7 loss to South Africa in their last warmup match, struggling to adapt to the Springboks’ suffocating defensive gameplan and leaving Joseph looking tactically outclassed.

Despite admitting that match was a wake-up call for his players, against Russia he is likely to go back to the dynamic, attacking rugby that produced 14 tries and 109 points in three matches during the PNC.

For their part, Russia will be determined not to act as merely the sacrificial lamb to Japan’s slaughter as they aim to get their first ever World Cup win.

They lost all four matches at the 2011 tournament during their only previous appearance at the finals and are only in Japan after Romania and Spain were disqualified from European qualification for fielding ineligible players. Russia, under the tutelage of Welshman Lyn Jones, lost their last warm-up match 85-15 to Italy.

Beckham's stadium complex for Inter Miami taking shape

Updated 22 October 2019

Beckham's stadium complex for Inter Miami taking shape

  • For now, it's a construction site. Before long, Inter Miami will call it home.

FORT LAUDERDALE: Piles of steel sit at one end of the property, waiting to be lifted into place. Workers were going in all directions, some pounding nails into wood, others ready to pour concrete, others driving heavy equipment over piles of dirt.
For now, it's a construction site.
Before long, Inter Miami will call it home.
"Organized chaos," Inter Miami sporting director Paul McDonough said as he took a look around the site of the now-demolished Lockhart Stadium where work on a new complex is happening 12 hours a day, seven days a week. "But we'll be ready."
These are hectic times for McDonough and Inter Miami, the team headlined by football icon David Beckham that will embark on its inaugural MLS season starting early in 2020. The team doesn't have a coach yet. Or players. Or a schedule. Or even the first blade of grass for its new field.
Over the next few weeks, all those issues — and countless others — will be addressed. Construction is on schedule, with all signals pointing toward everything being ready for the team's first home match that's likely to come in March.
Still, that doesn't do much to help McDonough's sleep cycle.
"This takes up a ton of time and everything keeps me up at night," McDonough said. "But it's OK. We're just on an accelerated timeline. There's so much stuff going on. But this is expansion. It's awesome. Everything we're doing here, we're trying to do it right."
At any given time, there are about 225 workers on the job site — the whereabouts of all of them tracked with an app that gets data from a chip attached to the back of their hard hats. If there's lightning in the area, work gets halted for 30 minutes until the cell passes. And that's a big deal, because even with next season still months away every minute counts.
Nothing is ready, yet — but it will be.
"The way it was built out, we're thinking of the athlete first from the minute they walk in," said Jacklyne Ramos, the team's vice president of communications as she stood inside what will be the building containing the locker room and other key spaces for the team. "The main stadium, that's for the games. Where we are now, this is where they'll live."
The Associated Press got a tour on Monday of what will be Inter Miami's inaugural home. The shell of the team's headquarters — locker rooms, equipment room, dining area, coach's office, what will become the sports performance lab, the academy workout facilities and more — is coming together. Every detail has been thought of; the walk from the players' parking lot to the building will be short, the training room will be small ("I don't want them comfortable in there," McDonough said), and an area will be built just off the outside wall of the locker room to air out cleats after training sessions.
"They'll never be in the building," McDonough said. "Boots can stink."
Beckham spent about five years trying to get MLS back in South Florida, and after many sites were considered — there's still plans for the team to eventually play in another stadium that Beckham and his partner Jorge Mas want built in Miami — they settled on the former Lockhart site. Lockhart is where the MLS' Miami Fusion played from 1998-2001, eventually folding because of poor attendance.
Inter Miami plans to play in Fort Lauderdale until the Miami stadium is complete, but what they're building at the Lockhart site is permanent; the training complex will remain the facility for Inter Miami's MLS, USL League One and academy teams.
The centerpiece of everything is the 18,000-seat stadium, and parts of what will become the field are already largely marked off. Drainage was installed first, followed by four inches of rock for a base. From there, sprinklers go into place and four thin pieces of wood are set in place to mark where the goalposts will go. About a foot of soil will be added in the coming weeks, watered and compacted and graded. Sod is scheduled to go in Nov. 14; from there, it'll be protected and fenced off and finally, what now seems like an oversized sand pit right now will look like a place to play soccer.
Behind that are more fields, including a turf one that can be used for high school football and other events. The other half-dozen grass fields will be for training and the team's affiliate clubs.
A coach will be hired soon. A roster is coming. There are plans for a soft opening a few weeks before the season and then, when the first match is played, all the mess and chaos will be forgotten.
"I wasn't ready for this. I'm still not," McDonough said. "I'm learning as we go. Conduits, positioning of poles, there's so many things that you don't realize until you live it. But that's what it takes and we're getting it done."