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TOKYO: The first Rugby World Cup to be staged in Asia kicks off Friday (Sep 20) in Tokyo, as the game seeks to broaden its global reach beyond its traditional European and southern hemisphere heartlands.
The tournament promises to be one of the most open in history, with at least five or six teams capable of preventing favourites New Zealand from winning an unprecedented third consecutive title.
Organisers hope stars of the game such as All Black Beauden Barrett, Ireland’s Johnny Sexton or South Africa’s Siya Kolisi will spark enthusiasm for the game in Japan and Asia more broadly.
The tournament will kick off on Friday at 6.45pm, Singapore time, when host Japan takes on Russia.
The early signs are good, with officials saying the tournament should be close to a complete sell-out and a staggering 15,000 fans turning out on a public holiday just to watch Wales train.
The global rugby showpiece will also serve as a tasty amuse-bouche for Japan as it prepares to host the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics.
World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said they had awarded the tournament to Japan in the hope it would be “a powerful game-changer for sporting and social change in Asia, the world’s most populous and youthful continent”.
Officials claim that a promotional drive has inspired 1.8 million new rugby participants since 2016, one million of those in Japan.
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