TOKYO (Reuters) - Forty years after first meeting on the rugby field, World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont and new Japanese Rugby Football Union President Shigetaka Mori shared a special reunion on Tuesday, just days before Japan hosts the World Cup.
The pair first met when Beaumont captained an England XV tour of Japan in 1979 and came up against a surprisingly dogged opponent in the Brave Blossoms, led by Mori.
Now, the two men are on the same team, hoping that World Rugby’s risk 10 years ago to award the World Cup to Japan, taking the tournament away from the sport’s traditional powerbase for the first time, pays off.
On Tuesday, in a small room away from the hive of activity at Japan 2019 headquarters, Mori showed Beaumont some black and white photographs from the tour, including his favourite — one that depicted him twisting away from the Englishman’s grasp.
“I was the captain and Bill was also the captain and at that time we used rock, paper, scissors instead of a coin flip (to decide who kicked off),” Mori told Reuters whilst shuffling through the old photographs.
“We had the first test in Osaka and then the second in Tokyo.”
England only just edged the first match 21-19, thanks to a last minute converted try.
“I remember we were losing and thinking what is the press going to think of us back home, what are they going to write about us,” said Beaumont.
“I can remember us scoring in the last minute of the game. We were losing and then we equalised and then Dusty Hare, the fullback, kicked the conversion.”
Beaumont says his side, who regularly went on summer tours to supplement their regular test schedule, had no expectations of Japan, as a country or as a team, before they arrived.
“You surprised us,” Beaumont said to Mori.
“We knew nothing about them until we arrived.
“We arrived on the Monday or something and then had a midweek game on the Wednesday against a Tokyo team. We then had the test match on the weekend.”
Having adjusted to the jetlag, England ran out comfortable 38-18 winners in the second test, but Japan’s performance in the first match had already made them famous.
“It was incredible to play against such a strong rugby nation and we played very well to get within two points,” said a beaming Mori.
“Because it was just a two-point gap all the fans were so excited.”
“We were invited onto TV programs on the morning news because people were so interested.”
Both men will be hoping that success on the field for the Brave Blossoms at this World Cup, starting with the opener against Russia on Friday, will again boost the profile of the sport in Japan.
Reporting by Jack Tarrant