The world ought to bow to Japan

The biblical scale of the devastation began to emerge from the crack of dawn: landslides, floods, minor earthquakes, mass evacuations and, worst of all, the ever-rising death toll.

The world ought to bow to Japan

The biblical scale of the devastation began to emerge from the crack of dawn: landslides, floods, minor earthquakes, mass evacuations and, worst of all, the ever-rising death toll.

The typhoon’s monstrous dirty work could be seen wherever they looked, images of destruction which included the ghastly sight of the nation’s engineering phenomenon, the Bullet trains, as they had never been seen before — a fleet of seven all washed up and waterlogged in their station.

Millions had been rendered homeless and yet by nightfall the Japanese people, their courtesy unfailing in the face of adversity, dusted themselves down and rose as one to acclaim a historic achievement.

The last thing they wanted was to qualify by default through a cancellation and yet the players had to wait until nine hours before kick-off for confirmation that the game would be played.

The national team, cast by so many in the forlorn role of the host without the most, made this a night like no other I have witnessed at any World Cup anywhere.

Japan have dared to change the global pecking order and done the sport a massive favour.

Through to the last eight for the first time, their reward is a quarter-final against the Springboks, the big beasts whom they rumbled in Brighton at the last World Cup.

Just as Jiwon Koo, their wounded tighthead, remembered to bow to the crowd despite wincing through the pain behind his premature exit, so the world ought to bow to Japan.

They have made this global tournament unlike any of the previous eight by daring to deliver a game every bit as bewitching as their country. Where others bring power and regimented, no-risk discipline, Japan bring pizzazz and pyrotechnics.

Their second try captured the beauty of the 15-man passing game which engulfed Scotland. The five-man move involved a trio of front-five forwards, the dreadlocked hooker Shota Horie, the ball-playing lock James Moore and the scorer, loosehead prop Keita Inagaki.

They have won all four pool matches, taken 19 points out of 20, seen off one-third of the Six Nations with a superior brand of rugby and the mental strength to come from behind.

They gave Scotland a seven-point start which offered Ireland fleeting hope of dodging the All Blacks in Saturday’s quarter-final. It lasted all of 13 minutes before Japan’s monopoly of the ball allied to their high-speed skills allowed them to generate a typhoon of their own.

The try bonus point banked two minutes into the second half had Ireland resigned to being stuck with the All Blacks, a sense of foreboding which came to pass despite the Scots bouncing back off the ropes with a ferocity that made this a World Cup classic for the ages.

Now, after Australasia, Europe, Africa and America, the last of the five major continents, Asia, has propelled a team into the quarter-finals.

The whole world, bar South Africa, will be hoping and praying they sock it to the Springboks again this weekend.

Bundee Aki deserves no sympathy

Some teams hit by a red card have been known to give the impression of having gone up to 16 instead of down to 14 but never as strikingly as Ireland in the typhoon-free zone of Fukuoka, 550 miles south-west of Tokyo.

Their response to losing Bundee Aki would have left the Connacht centre trying to work out whether he ought to be more worried about his sending-off or the comparative ease with which those left behind put Samoa to the sword once he had gone.

Despite suggestions to the contrary, Aki got exactly what he deserved. Nor does he deserve any sympathy, not when players and coaches have been warned ad infinitum about the consequences of hits to the head.

In that respect the Connacht man didn’t have a leg to stand on before Australian referee Nic Berry took the only action open to him. By then his victim, Samoa stand-off Ulupano Seuteni, had been left in such a state that he didn’t have a leg to stand on, either.

It’s all too easy to forget the victim. The Samoans, gracious in defeat as usual, expressed sympathy for Aki, not that their defence will carry much clout considering they have collected more cards over the last three weeks than anyone else.

Coach Steve Jackson’s verdict — “Our discipline has to be a lot better” — has to be a contender for under-statement of the World Cup. Three Samoans have been suspended for red-card offences. They have had more yellows than anyone else and have conceded 50 penalties

Caught in eye of the storm

Anyone following Ireland over the course of nine World Cups will have gone through a maelstrom of theatrical emotions, from the farcical Rose of Tralee start in Wellington to the Greek tragedy of Paul O’Connell’s last stand in Cardiff almost 30 years later.

Even for the few who witnessed both occasions in between a veritable saga of anti-climactic performances too numerous to recall, Japan was always going to be different. How different nobody could have imagined.

Caught in the eye of the worst typhoon for 61 years the day after arriving left no means of going down the road to Yokohama for a game that had been called off (England-France), let alone plotting a course in pursuit of Ireland to Fukuoka, so distant that Noah would have thought twice about pushing the Ark out.

The cascading rain hit the deserted streets with such ferocity that each drop seemed to bounce at least a foot off the concrete. It reinforced a salient point, that the more you immerse yourself in an event like the Rugby World Cup, the harder it is to see the bigger picture, or any picture.

Marooned for hours on end at a small Indian curry house with some Anglo-Welsh friends, the day threatened to turn into a black-out long before dark.

The lights had been going out along Japan’s eastern seaboard all day when, miraculously, Ireland v Samoa emerged out of the blue on the restaurant’s big screen.

The diners included one Death Metal band from Holland and another from the US, neither of whom gave the match as much as a flicker of attention.

They had no time to rock the joint before the tectonic plates had done it for them, a tremor measured at four on the Richter Scale.

Mercifully, the whole lot of shaking lasted no more than mere seconds. Most of the band sat with their backs turned to the screen, as oblivious to the quake as they were to the rugby.

As if that wasn’t strange enough, live coverage had to be interrupted for an update from the Japanese Meteorological Agency on the deteriorating emergency. In the universal scheme of things, their survival reduced the rugby to a frivolous sideshow.

Achill’s flying Eagle soars for USA

The USA may have wound up without a point to show for their trouble in Higashiosaka City yesterday, but not before their Achill Islander had struck another defiant blow for the green and red of Mayo.

Paul Mullen finished the Eagles’ last pool match against Tonga just as he finished the previous three, against England, France and Argentina. It amounted to a total game-time of 131 minutes for the 27-year-old tighthead who has gone a long way west, and east, from his native Inishmore.

Capped at under-age level from Munster’s academy, Mullen left for America to study marine engineering technology. In the eight years since, his rugby journey has taken him to the Houston SaberCats, Galveston, the Texas All Stars, Newcastle Falcons and Japan as a fully-fledged Eagle thanks to an American grandparent.

He will have to go some lengths to emulate Achill’s most famous sporting son, world boxing champion Johnny Kilbane. He ruled the featherweight roost for 11 years until 1923, fighting out of Cleveland, Ohio, where his parents settled after emigrating from their island home on this side of the Atlantic.

A statue on Achill of their favourite fighting son serves as a permanent reminder of their world-beater who died in 1957 at the age of 68. Mullen has a way to go but at least he’s up and running.

My team of the weekend

  • 15 Jordan Larmour (Ireland)
  • 14 Kenki Fukuoka (Japan)
  • 13 Timothy Lafaele (Japan)
  • 12 Sofiane Guitoune (France)
  • 11 Josh Adams (Wales)
  • 10 Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
  • 9 TJ Perenara (New Zealand)
  • 1 Keita Inagaki (Japan)
  • 2 Shota Horie (Japan)
  • 3 Tadhg Furlong (Ireland)
  • 4 James Moore (Japan)
  • 5 James Ryan (Ireland)
  • 6 Michael Leitch (Japan)
  • 7 Jamie Ritchie (Scotland)
  • 8 Viliame Mata (Fiji)

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