gets over the gain line, behind the headline
As neutrals the world over keep trying to fathom where that whale of a Japanese victory came from, a clue can be found in the fate of a failed kamikaze pilot.
Shiggy Kono had a dream which he chased with growing impatience during the Second World War, to sacrifice himself for the greater glory of Emperor Hirohito. Had he succeeded, Ireland would probably have been spared the Oriental ordeal which left them feeling like schmucks in the schemozzle of Shizouka, victims of rugby in all its captivating splendour.
Now this may take some explaining because it sounds too implausible for words but the genesis of Japanese rugby can be traced back to the atom bombs America dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Ironically, the apocalypse estimated to have ended more than 200,000 lives saved Konno’s, Japan’s surrender rescuing him from his appointment with fatality.
A man of unfailing courtesy and humour who spoke impeccable English, Shiggy’s description of his war record amounted to the ultimate in self-deprecation: ‘A failed kamikaze pilot.’ “’The only reason I am still alive and talking to you today is that I wasn’t a very good pilot,” he said at the Japan team’s hotel in Swansea during one of their pioneering British tours 43 years ago. “That’s why my mission was to be the very last.
“Everyone has to fight for his country and I kept asking the commanding officers: ‘Why do you keep sending pilots who are married with families? Why not send me, a single man?’ “And their answer was always the same: ‘Because we value our planes more than your ability to hit the target.’ So my mission was put back until early September 1945. Fortunately for me, the war ended in August.’’ Fortunately for Japan, Konno devoted the rest of his life to chasing a more peaceful dream, the infinitely more elusive one of creating a new super-charged force in world rugby. As architect-in-chief, he built the Japanese game through a variety of roles: director, manager, chairman over five decades.
A renowned global figure, his death 12 years ago at 84 coincided with his country winning the right to host the World Cup in 2019. The old order had been given due notice, not that any of them noticed until The Brave Blossoms commandeered Brighton & Hove Albion’s football stadium and dared to run the Springboks off their feet.
It earned their half-Japanese, half-Australian head coach with a Welsh surname, Eddie Jones, a fortune to run England by which time the Brighton extravaganza had been dismissed in patronising fashion by the sport’s hierarchy as a one-off, a freak that wouldn’t happen again.
The geometric effect of the passes they kept fizzing all over the field eventually led to Ireland passing out and yet nobody saw it coming, least of all Sam Warburton. The retired Lions captain turned pundit confessed that he thought the hosts would lose by 25.
No greater compliment can be paid to Japan’s electrifying rugby than to concede that the Irish heavyweights fell one by one: Rory Best, Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong, Iain Henderson, Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Jacob Stockdale. They will find no comfort in the fact that the match did rugby’s universal image a mighty favour.
At least Joey Carbery had the presence of mind to recognise the reality and prevent the crisis from deteriorating. He had the gumption to hoof the ball out of harm’s way rather than keep it alive and risk losing the most miserable of bonus points.
If they are to repair the damage and avoid New Zealand in the last eight, Ireland need Scotland to beat Japan in Yokohama on October 13. Ominously, the Scots are hardly in a fit state to help themselves, never mind anyone else.
Nine days have seen plenty of tens
Nine days in and this World Cup has already seen more Irish fly-halves than any other. No fewer than five, drawn from all four provinces, have been centre stage with a sixth held in reserve and a seventh waiting in the wings.
As well as the national trio of Johnny Sexton, Jack Carty and Joey Carbery, two more have taken a trans-Atlantic route to Japan from opposite sides of the border.
A J MacGinty, a Dubliner whose studies took him to the US, has wrapped himself around the Stars and Stripes since qualifying through residence. Peter Nelson, a former Ulster and Ireland under-20 international, opted to make the most of his Canadian eligbility provided by a grandmother from Toronto.
Nelson got the nod against Italy ahead of another Irish ten, Shane O’Leary whose mother was born in New Brunswick. A native of Cork who helped Connacht win the PRO12 three years ago, O’Leary has come a long way from Scariff in Clare to Oita where the ever-hopeful Canadians bump into the All Blacks on Wednesday.
Should Italy require reinforcement in the play-making department, then the most courageous of all Irish out-halves will be straining at the leash to answer the emergency. Ian McKinley, Treviso’s goalkicking Dubliner.
Eagles not so Super
Maybe it has something to do with all the fancy talk first spouted more than 30 years ago about the US being rugby’s next big thing. Whatever the reason, the Eagles still appear to have an identity problem which would explain Tom Brady’s take on the World Cup.
The New England Patriot’s superstar quarterback has six Super Bowls to his name and counts Mr Trump amongst his friends which may help explain why Brady’s acquaintance with American rugby is not dissimilar to the President’s grasp of diplomacy.
Brady appeared in a video wishing the Springboks good luck in Japan. Nate Egner, an American sevens Olympian, either saw it or heard about it and promptly ensured that Brady appeared in a new video wishing the Eagles well against England.
“Hey,” says Brady. “It’s a tough journey but if anyone can do it, you guys can.” They hadn’t fired a shot until John Quill, ex-Dolphin and Munster Academy from Youghal, landed one on Owen Farrell’s shoulder near the end and duly walked.
Hookers’ time to shine
At the risk of someone, somewhere taking this the wrong way, it has to be said that hookers are scoring all over Japan as never before. The ninth World Cup still has a month to run but it already seems more of the species have touched down in the last week than in the previous eight global bashes put together.
Nothing, it seems, is beyond their telescopic reach and in that respect nobody can match Julian Montoya’s. The Argentinian demolished Tonga with a 19-minute hat-trick, the first by a hooker at any World Cup since Keith Wood ploughed through the Americans at Lansdowne Road almost exactly 20 years ago.
Killaloe’s finest is still the only one of his kind to score four in a game but maybe not for much longer judging by the pyrotechnics of the man of the tournament hitherto, Shota Horie. Having done everything but score, the Tokyo Sunwolf gives every impression of being able to score four in ten minutes.
Eleven other hookers from eight countries have scored 17 tries: Montoya 4, Mbongeni Mbnonambi (South Africa) 2, Luke Cowan-Dickie (England) 2, Tolu Latu (Australia) 2, Rory Best (Ireland), Federico Zanni (Italy), Jamie George (England), Mesulane Dolokoto (Fij), Jaba Bregvadze, Shalva Mamukashvili (both Georgia) and Schalk Brits (South Africa) one each.
Team of the week
15 Ryohei Yamanaka (Japan)
14 Kotaro Matsushima (Japan)
13 Timothy Lafaele (Japan)
12 Ryoto Nakamura (Japan)
11 Josh Adams (Wales)
10 Rhys Patchell (Wales)
9 Yutaka Nagare (Japan)
1 Keita Inagaki (Japan)
2 Shota Horie (Japan)
3 Ji-won Koo (Japan)
4 Luke Thompson (Japan)
5 Alun-Wyn Jones (Wales)
6 Aaron Wainwright (Wales)
7 Lappies Labuschagne (Japan)
8 Michael Leitch (Japan)