Next World Cup hosts Japan must ensure Brave Blossoms' heroics don't wilt
By Shinichi Saoshiro and Nobuhiro Kubo
TOKYO (Reuters) - Late in September, 52 Japanese children turned up for an introductory event at Tokyo's Katsushika Rugby School, about five times the intake of the year before.
It was no coincidence that days earlier, Japan's rugby team had stunned South Africa and the sporting world with a last-gasp 34-32 win over the two-time world champions at the World Cup on the other side of the world in England.
"We've never seen such numbers in the past," Moriyuki Hayashi, the school's headmaster, told Reuters.
"The national team not only put rugby on the map overseas, but within Japan as well."
As Japan prepares to host the next Rugby World Cup in 2019, the first time it will be held outside traditional powerhouse nations, organizers hope the infectious success of the team this year turns into a lasting passion for the sport.
Rugby participation in the Asian nation of 130 million people has waxed and waned since its introduction in the mid-to late 19th century by British armed forces personnel posted there.
It has in fact been in decline over the last two decades, hit by the rising popularity of soccer, a falling birthrate and embarrassing defeats on the field.
Players, coaches and officials are aware of the scale of the task to deliver a thriving tournament in 2019, a year before Tokyo hosts the Summer Olympics. Continued...