Sun, 15 Sep 2019

Tokyo - First the good news: Japanese organisers insist there is no danger of this year's Rugby World Cup venues running out of beer.

Japan's top official has promised that the taps will not run dry at the tournament, which kicks off in Tokyo on September 20 when the host nation's "Brave Blossoms" take on Russia.

"We will be on our toes to make sure there's enough beer for fans," the World Cup organising committee CEO Akira Shimazu told AFP in an interview.

"Heineken have the technical know-how to keep the beer flowing at the stadiums," he added, referring to the tournament's global sponsor.

Shimazu noted that Pacific Nations home games against Fiji and Tonga this summer and a final tune-up against South Africa would give local organisers a chance to test the beer supply.

World Cup security staffing 48 games at 12 venues as well as 16 fanzones across Japan will also allow alcohol-fuelled fans a degree of leeway to celebrate with gusto.

But Shimazu warned: "There's having fun and there's behaving poorly.

"Of course security will be careful to avoid cases where fans cause trouble for others. There are cultural differences to consider, but Japanese people are the same after a few drinks."

With more than 1.4 million of 1.8 million tickets already sold, organisers are predicting one of the best World Cups ever.

"Our target is to sell out every game," insisted Shimazu. "I think that's a realistic goal."

Having previously been warned by tournament director Alan Gilpin to speed up preparations, organisers are putting the finishing touches on 55 training camps, added Shimazu, who is tipping teams from the northern hemisphere to challenge for the Webb Ellis trophy.

"They are in tremendous form - England, Ireland and Wales, who won the Six Nations," he said.

"New Zealand will be there or thereabouts but you never know who will actually put that title run together."

As New Zealand chase a World Cup hat-trick, Shimazu backed Japan - coached by former All Black Jamie Joseph - to make history by reaching the knockout phase for the first time.

"Jamie is being quite secretive in his preparations," smiled Shimazu.

"Japan have definitely improved and obviously we want them to achieve their objective and reach the knockout stage."

Japan famously won three matches under Eddie Jones at the 2015 World Cup in England, where the hosts made unwanted history by crashing out in the first round.

Shimazu insisted, however, that Asia's first Rugby World Cup would not fizzle out if Japan fail to advance from a group also featuring Ireland and Scotland.

"The English public were bitterly disappointed and I heard the consumption of beer even fell as a result, but there was still so much excitement in the knockout stages," he said.

"I can't say it will have zero effect if Japan exit early," admitted Shimazu. "But we hope to put on a World Cup every bit as incredible as England did four years ago, where you had over 80,000 fans watch a group game between Ireland and Romania."

However, if the Brave Blossoms manage to snatch one of the two quarter-final spots from Pool A it would give the tournament a huge boost, as it did when co-hosts Japan and South Korea advanced to the knockout stage of the 2002 football World Cup.

"Eddie has been kind enough to say Japan can reach the knockouts," smiled Shimazu. "But I think he just wants England to run into Japan at some point!"

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