Last week TW’s British creative director Liam Ramshaw, who has a long and storied career on the rugby pitch, schooled our American editor Nick Narigon about the ins and outs of the game ahead of Japan’s first-ever appearance in the 2019 Rugby World Cup quarterfinals. With the tournament’s remaining four teams battling it out in the upcoming weekend, Liam patiently took time to answer Nick’s needling questions.
Nick: It’s a shame about Japan’s tough loss to South Africa in the RWC quarterfinals. A lot of samurai spirits were crushed following game, both figuratively and literally as there seemed to be a lot of bleary souls wandering around Shinjuku Monday morning. You were in attendance at Ajinomoto Stadium in Chofu on behalf of TW. Thank you for your helpful Tweets. What was the atmosphere like inside the stadium?
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 20, 2019
Liam: Wow… what a game, what an atmosphere. The feeling inside and outside the stadium was absolutely electric. Even on the train ride to the game, you could really sense the excitement all over the city. I’ve never seen so many people wearing Japan rugby shirts. When the Japanese team walked to their dressing room in that now-famous V formation with their hands on each other shoulders I literally got goosebumps. After a nervous start, Japan started to play some excellent rugby and by the end of the first half, they were looking like the stronger team. Was it too early to dream? Surely they couldn’t do it again, could they? Were we about to witness history being made again? Well as we all saw, it was a little bit too early to dream. The massive South African pack eventually just ground the Brave Blossoms down, slowly but surely. But what a performance…
Nick: We all have dreams. Mine is to leave a hostess club without losing my credit card. In part one of our little discussion you laid out the drinking rules to rugby and I did my best to follow, which means I was three pints in by halftime when Japan was still in the game, behind by a mere 2 points. There was a lot of lip-pursing and teeth-sucking ahead of RWC about whether or not Japan would provide enough beer to wet the lips of World Rugby’s thirsty fans. Were there enough suds at the stadium?
Fans toast beer hawkers' debut at Rugby World Cup https://t.co/ChjVY2h0xJ
— The Japan Times (@japantimes) October 24, 2019
Liam: After all the hysteria about stadiums running out of beer it turned out that no matter how hard we tried we couldn’t drink the stadium bars dry, and my word how we tried. One thing I did hear a lot from visiting fans was how wonderful they found the concept of stadium beer girls. In this aspect Japan really over-delivered. Unfortunately, due to reasons of professionalism or whatever, there weren’t any beer girls patroling the press sections of the stadiums, which I thought was a jolly poor decision, but that’s why any rugby journalist worth his salt always carries an emergency hip flask.
Nick: I imagine there were a few salty rugby journalists joining you in the press area. Back to the first half, in my virginal viewpoint, Japan was able to stay in the game due to South Africa’s penalties. Japan’s only points of the game came when the Springboks were one man down for 10 minutes following Tendai Mtawarira’s yellow card for a high tackle. Damian de Allende also had a try taken away just before the end of the half after he crawled across the goal line on his knees and was called for “double movement.” What is that? NFL football has clear-cut rules about when a player is ruled down at the end of a play, but it seems rugby’s line is a bit blurred. How is a player determined to be “down” in rugby?
Liam: You’re really getting the hang of this I feel. It warms my heart to know my humble teachings are taking root in the fertile soil of your mind. Indeed Japan were kept in the game by a series of South African infringements, in fact after watching the tackle on replay many in the press box thought that Mtawarira was fortunate to get away with just a yellow card, if the Japanese player had landed on his head then you would have been looking at an automatic red card and an early shower. With the Springboks down to 14 men for the rest of the game who knows what might have transpired, but twasn’t to be I suppose.
So in answer to your question… Usually in rugby it’s pretty easy to know when a player has been tackled, he’s usually flat on his arse with a couple of large chaps right on top of him, however officially a player is deemed to have been tackled when he is being held on the ground by an opposition player and has at least one knee touching the ground, after that he must release the ball before being able to continue his run. As you could see from the replay, the Saffa player clearly had a knee on the floor before he crawled over the tryline, so hard cheese…
Nick: Cheese. Yummy. Did they provide you guys any snacks there in the press box? Fami chiki by chance? You mention the release of the ball following the tackle. This is another area I am confused about. When the guy is pancaked there on the ground, sometimes he can just lay the ball out like he’s handing over a lovely Easter egg for his teammates to enjoy. Other times opponents are lunging at it like Americans attacking the bacon platter of a breakfast buffet. How does play resume following a successful tackle?
Liam: Bit of a poor spread in the press box, not a fami chiki to be seen anywhere and certainly no bacon platter. But on to more important matters… the art of the ruck. So when a player is tackled he has the opportunity to place the ball back in the direction of his (hopefully) supporting teammates. During the sliver in time before his teammates arrive, the opposition players have the opportunity to compete for the ball with their hands. This is known as a “Jackal.” If the tackling team is as quick and sneaky as the animal of the same name, then they can steal the ball and possession changes.
However, as soon as the supporting players arrive and contact is made a ruck is formed and more often than not the jackal is flattened in a big pile of man meat. And that’s why defending teams will often pick and choose exactly when they try and go for a steal. After the ruck is complete the scrum half (usually the smallest, mouthiest player on any team, most likely sporting brightly colored boots, a clean shirt and overly styled hair) will restart the game by passing the ball to another player and then we repeat the whole process again until eventually someone scores, get’s injured or the ball is kicked out of play.
Nick: I wish my nickname was Jackal. Most people call me Petunia. Earlier you said South Africa ground Japan down for the win. In the second half their scrum literally pushed Japan from one end of the field to another. Is there anything Japan could have done to prevent that? What do you see for the Brave Blossoms moving forward?
Liam: There is certainly no shame being mauled down the field by the South African pack. They are absolute beasts and do that to pretty much every team in World Rugby including the mighty All Blacks. To be honest when a maul gets that much momentum going it’s very, very difficult to stop – legally. Occasionally you might see a brave soldier take one for the team by “falling over” and collapsing the maul, but that will usually result in a yellow card and a penalty.
However, the future looks bright for the Brave Blossoms. They’ve captured not only the hearts of the country but the wider admiration of the entire rugby world with some of the truly amazing rugby that they’ve played this past few weeks. There are talks of the Japan team joining the highly competitive Rugby Championship where they would play the All Blacks, Australia, South Africa and Argentina on an annual basis. With regular competition against world class teams, and a growing domestic following, there really are no limits to what this team might achieve.
— Tokyo Weekender (@Tokyo_Weekender) October 21, 2019
Nick: The Brave Blossoms have certainly gotten my rugby juices flowing. I’ve been doing some wind sprints over at Yoyogi Park in preparation of joining your league team as a scrum half, if you think I have the hair for it. The Rugby World Cup is winding down, which must be a little bittersweet for you. Your England team takes on the returning champs of New Zealand, while Wales and South Africa battle it out on Sunday. Which games will you be at, what are your predictions and what will you be tweeting about this go around?
Liam: The two games are just to close to call. I’ll be at the England New Zealand game. If the tweeting stops abruptly during the game it’s safe to assume that England are losing and I’m drowning my spirits. However, if it’s a close game, look forward to some particularly colorful language. For the first semi-final my heart says England, but my head says All Blacks. My misplaced optimism is predicting a 7-point victory for the chaps in White. For the second semi-final I reckon the Springboks are going to be just a little bit too strong for a Wales side that are going to be missing a couple of key players through injury, so I reckon the Boks by 10.
It will be sad indeed when all this is over but I’ll be looking forward to seeing you on the rugby pitch, Petunia.
Nick: That’s Prince Jackal to you. I look forward to following your live coverage and insight of Saturday’s England vs New Zealand game on the TW Twitter account. I like your Tweets.
After some early nerves, Japan are playing some excellent rugby. Is it too early to dream?
— Tokyo Weekender (@Tokyo_Weekender) October 20, 2019
Feature image by Francois Nel – World Rugby via Getty Images