The Real Heroes of Rugby World Cup

Chris Wyatt, Hiroshima, October 2nd, 2019

I am now at the midway point in my 2019 Rugby World Cup pool stage tour, having attended my ninth game today in Fukuoka where the USA Eagles held their own and put a scare into France fans, staying in the game and keeping it close at 12-9 into the 66th minute tonight.  I have nine more games to attend before I head home.  It seems an apropos time to mention the unsung heroes of Rugby World Cup 2019 Japan.

We have our favorite teams and favorite players.  For me it is the Springboks first, Eagles Second, all but England and never the All Blacks.  With players, I have many favorites but enjoy watching Duane Vermeulen (South Africa), Sonny Bill Williams (New Zealand) and Hanco Germishuys (USA).  Funny how an All Black snuck in there, eh?  But Sonny Bill is a fun guy to watch.  The players and to a degree the officials make the game.  But so much more happens behind the scenes, right in front of our eyes, yet so often we look right past it.  Or perhaps I should say we look right past them that is.

In all rugby world cups, one group of usually unsung heroes are the volunteers who make such a difference in the fan experience.  Rugby World Cup 2019 also relies heavily on volunteers in their easily identifiable shirts and wearing armbands indicating they are part of “team no side.”  That clever slogan is appropriate, as the only team they all seem to pull for is the fans who attend the games here in Japan.  In every previous Rugby World Cup, I have attended the volunteers were helpful (more so in some places than others).  The story is no different in Japan.  What is different is that for the first time ever the world cup is being held outside a traditional rugby nation and in a country where few visitors can speak the language, at all. Given the unusual language barrier (for rugby fans that is) and confusing array of transport options to get to many of the stadiums (which often seem to be out in the middle of nowhere!), the sight of volunteers is a comforting confirmation that you are on the right track.  If not, they will help get you there.

We often forget that these are regular folks who have given their time to promote their home and to help us.  They make a critical difference for all fans, but especially so for the foreign visitor.  While English skills may be patchy, enthusiasm is never lacking or waning with the Japanese volunteers who cheerfully wave, offer high fives, and endlessly greet and welcome fans to cities, transport hubs and the venues.  The Japanese enthusiasm among volunteers is near-universal and, darn it, it is infectious too!  I find myself happily returning the high fives and getting in on the fun with our Japanese hosts.

The second category of unsung heroes truly is a group I suspect no one has given credit to Japan Rail (JR) workers.  Booking reservations (a necessity on the “Shinkansen,” lest one risk missing fully booked high-speed trains) is a critically important part of Rugby World Cup 2019 travel.  Figuring out which train, which tracks and where that is can be a bit daunting with thousands of people moving about around you.  Without fail, I have found the JR employees to be friendly, efficient, effective, helpful and invaluable to all my travel in Japan.  JR ought to be proud of their employees.  They have done Japan and World Rugby proud.  Few of us foreign visitors would be able to coordinate our rail trips on our own.  Thank goodness for JR workers.

The thanks can also extend beyond JR to all public transport.  I have now traveled in taxis, trains, subways, buses, and streetcars.  Getting from place to place invariably entails a transfer of some sort.  The Japanese workers on all these networks have been extremely helpful, even if, far too often, we must communicate with hand gestures.  Somehow, they convey what we need to know to get to our destination.  So let’s offer a toast to the unsung heroes of Rugby World Cup 2019!

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Other 2019 Rugby World Cup articles by Chris Wyatt for DJCoil Rugby include:

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Chris Wyatt is a guest journalist for DJCoil Rugby who is attending the 2019 Rugby World Cup. His periodic articles will provide another perspective for matches attended.

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North American Rugby News With A USA Slant