Springbok fans 'will love Japan'

Vlok Cilliers (Gallo Images)
Vlok Cilliers (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – The Springboks can expect field conditions nearer to Highveld than domestic coastal ones when they tackle RWC 2019 in first-time host country Japan.

So says Vlok Cilliers, the kicking specialist and former SA Sevens and Springbok player who has become a fairly regular visitor to those shores.

“This has been my third year of spending time in Japan, and you definitely sense the mounting World Cup excitement; I just had a month working with (former Bulls head coach) Frans Ludeke and his Kubota Spears team,” Cilliers told Sport24.

“At the stations, the airports, the malls, other locations ... there are very visible billboards up, proclaiming the tournament.

“Some of them have legends of the game as their most prominent features ... I spotted a giant one at one of the biggest stations with an image of our own Victor Matfield, also the All Blacks’ Kieran Read and other legends of the World Cup.

“You get into a taxi and the driver is discussing the World Cup; you wouldn’t normally get them talking so much about rugby, but the vibe and enthusiasm is clearly growing among the Japanese public - they are bombarded by awareness of the World Cup, without doubt.”

Cilliers also picked up a strong sense that most critical aspects of preparation (South African open their account with a blockbuster fixture against defending champions New Zealand at Yokohama on September 21) are well on track.

“The infrastructure in preparation for the event, including the stadiums … it’s all unbelievably impressive. There will be a mix of totally new stadiums and some - the majority - that are already in use for the domestic Top League rugby.

“A few of the grounds are comfortably multipurpose, sharing, for example, with soccer which is already very big there.

“The pitches themselves will be firmer than some people might expect, and fast. Definitely more like Highveld ones than, say, a Newlands in wet mid-winter.

“Several of the grounds are fairly open, giving potential for swirling wind, and humidity can get high. But the World Cup will be between seasons, in the Japanese autumn, so the weather is expected to be generally settled.

“Knowing Rassie (Erasmus, the Bok coach) he will do thorough homework on all these matters ... I am pretty sure he will want to speak to guys like Frans, Jake White and Allister Coetzee who have compiled quite a lot of knowledge by now of the Japanese environment.”

He says travelling Bok supporters will quickly become aware of famed Japanese efficiency.

“South Africans and all the other travelling supporters could be surprised, despite what some may already know, by how organised and slick everything will feel. Everything will happen smack on time, including transport arrangements and so on.

“If you have arranged a taxi for 10:00 it will be there at 10:00. It is also among the safest countries in the world, so that will be noticed by the Bok fans ... I know they will love the whole experience.

“The people are friendly and enthusiastic ... they want to help you, even if they don’t speak your language. The food is excellent as well.

“I guess the only tough aspect will be the exchange rate with the rand; Japan is not a cheap country. But RWC comes around every four years, so a lot of people will simply say ‘why not?’ and dig in their pockets anyway.”

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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