If COVID-19 has created hardship across the face of the globe, it has also helped distil some essential truths more clearly. One of those truths is that the brother nations of New Zealand and Australia work best when they work together.
With the 2019 Rugby World Cup now less than a year away, we’re putting together some dream holidays in partnership with Japan Travel, Kanagawa Prefecture, so you won’t lack for inspiration during the tournament.
The 2019 edition of the Rugby World Cup will be the first time the tournament has been taken outside the established top-tier rugby nations.
As a result, Japan 2019 presents a unique opportunity to rugby lovers from around the globe to follow the game to new places and take in some incredible new experiences.
On the park, the Brave Blossoms are still a developing rugby nation, but off the field, the nation is one of the world’s most culture-rich societies, making it ideal for a global celebration of sport.
We’ve put together some dream Rugby World Cup getaways designed to show off the best of what Japan has to offer away from the stadiums as a complement to what the tournament will no doubt serve up on it.
For me, the obvious place to start is Yokohama, which will play host to the pick of the group-stage games: New Zealand versus South Africa.
Yokohama was one of the first centres in Japan to open its port to foreign trade in the 1850s, and as a result has become the city which has most embraced outside influence in its culture.
The result is a cosmopolitan blend of food, architecture and, importantly, beer. Yokohama is considered the ‘beer city’ of Japan, home to a number of craft microbreweries, and the Noge District in particular – packed full of typical Japanese restaurants and a vibrant atmosphere – makes it the perfect kick-off destination for any kind of holiday.
Why is this game a must-see? Uh, do I really have to explain? Actually, scrap that, have you been following All Blacks versus Springboks games at all in the last decade?
The Boks are one of the few teams whose record stands up against New Zealand over their unprecedented period of international dominance.
South Africa’s physical style has proven to be the most effective counter to the All Blacks’ Harlem Globetrotter-esque brand of rugby and they have felled world rugby’s giants six times over the past ten years. Pitted against each other in the opening game of the pool stage, the winner of this September 21 fixture will likely top Pool B and avoid a potential quarter-final match-up with Ireland, who will be favoured to top Pool A.
If nothing else, it’s worthwhile just going to see the most dominant team on the planet do their thing. The All Blacks have become rugby’s equivalent to Brazil at the FIFA World Cup, and you can’t help but just admire how easy they make it look sometimes.
After enjoying Yokohama and what is hopefully a phenomenal game between the All Blacks and the Boks, it’s onto Shizuoka for a match between the host nation and Ireland on Saturday, September 28.
Before heading to Shizuoka Stadium for Japan’s second fixture of their home World Cup, be sure to enjoy the surrounds.
Lake Ashi is the perfect spot to soak up some local culture for a couple of days before watching the host nation take on one of the tournament’s heavyweights.
Relax in the hot springs in the Lake Ashi area and take in the views of Mount Fuji before heading to the iconic Odawara Castle to don the full Ninja armour and kit to snap yourself a touristy photo to send home!
As for the game itself, this one will make for great viewing. The Brave Blossoms in action against the team many are tipping to be the biggest threat to New Zealand’s crown: Ireland.
Coach Joe Schmidt has overseen perhaps the most celebrated generation in Irish rugby history. His 72 per cent win record also comes with a side of three Six Nations triumphs, so this is an Ireland team that knows how to win trophies.
Japan pulled off one of the greatest upsets in rugby history when they shocked South Africa in their opening game of the 2015 World Cup and have been quietly going about building a team capable of doing something similar in 2019.
A win over Italy, a draw with France in Paris and competitive outings against both Australia and Ireland in the last 12 months will have given the Japanese belief in their ability to pull off another shock upset.
Either way, you’re seeing one of the favourites up against the underdog tournament hosts who have form in springing an upset. I wouldn’t miss it.
From there, it’s onto our last match of the trip: a mouthwatering encounter between Eddie Jones’ England and Los Pumas of Argentina on October 5.
If you’ve not had your fill of Samurai action, then the Kamakura area will provide ample opportunities for you to take in some of the 1000-year-old temples and shrines of the Samurai capital of Japan.
Following Kamakura, the Yokohama Minato Mirai area is a viewing point which takes in the port of Yokohama alongside towering skyscrapers and some stunning retro architecture.
Kamakura and Yokohama Minato Mirai should provide the battery recharge you need before you shoot back to Tokyo for the third game of our Rugby World Cup dream holiday.
As for the rugby leg of this part of the trip, England versus Argentina is an enticing match-up.
It all looked so rosy for England less than two years ago. After the embarrassment of a pool-stage exit on home soil in 2015, the team had been rebuilt under Jones’ stewardship.
England rolled through 2016 with a 100 per cent winning record that included away wins in Scotland, Italy, France and three on Australian soil. 2017 proved almost as fruitful, a 90 per cent winning rate that saw the only defeat come at the hands of the Irish in Dublin.
Since then, it’s not been quite as smooth a ride for Jones and co. Five losses in eight Tests in 2018 (six in nine if you count the loss to the Barbarians) has seen the tide of goodwill towards Jones turn – although a strong start to the Six Nations this year has helped. England now face a battle to regain form and confidence in time for the World Cup.
Awaiting them when they get there will be Argentina, who have also struggled to pick up results over the past 18 months but whose performances do at least appear to be trending in the right direction.
The win over the Wallabies on the Gold Coast backed up another over the Springboks and competitive outings against the All Blacks and Wales in 2018. The Pumas also don’t mind a cheeky World Cup run, having chalked up two semi-final and two quarter-final appearances in the last five tournaments.
There will be drama in this one, the perfect way to end an action-packed tour of Japan.