Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on October 2009

Photos courtesy of Dentsu

Photo courtesy of Dentsu

Japan will finally get to host big-time rugby this month when New Zealand takes on Australia at Tokyo’s National Stadium in the fourth game of the 2009 Bledisloe Cup series. And with the Rugby World Cup set to roll up here in 2019, organizers are hoping to show that Japan is capable of bringing in the fans and putting on a show worthy of the world’s third-biggest sporting event.

First contested in 1931, the Bledisloe Cup traveled overseas for the first time last year, when it alighted in Hong Kong. New Zealand and Australia have been looking to strengthen ties with Asia—not to mention earn a few bob on their way to season-ending tours of Europe.

“We hope the match sells out, as that will generate some direct revenue for the three unions,” says New Zealand Rugby Union CEO Steve Tew. “Though more important is the long-term base the game will gain in Japan.”

The Wallabies and All Blacks were both last in Tokyo in 2000, when the two sides played exhibition games against a President’s XV and the Pacific Barbarians, respectively. This year’s game is a full-on test match, and although the Kiwis have already retained the trophy by winning the first three games, there is still a great deal at stake.

“It doesn’t matter that the game is not in Wellington or Sydney,” says Robbie Deans, a former All Black now in charge of the Wallabies. “When these two teams meet, it’s for real. You’ve got two of the best sides in the world going head-to-head. There is no greater rugby spectacle than a Bledisloe Cup encounter. The All Blacks may have retained the Bledisloe for the year, but that doesn’t mean there is any less meaning in the encounter.”

So far so good, then—a test between two of the top three sides in the world. But local organizers have slipped up by failing to rectify one of the biggest complaints of last year: namely, the lack of any Asian representation at an event supposed to promote the game in the continent.

Initial plans for the match involved a doubleheader between Japan and an ANZAC XV. However, that has now been scrapped, with the blame being laid on the owners of the venue.

“The curators of the National Stadium want the pitch to be perfect for the main game, as it will be shown worldwide,” says Australian Rugby Union DCE Matt Carroll.

Both Deans and All Blacks coach Graham Henry have distanced themselves from the decision, simply saying that it was out of their hands. Similarly, both refused to be drawn into any comment about the price of tickets. Rather like a boy trying to run before he can walk, advertising giant Dentsu—which is underwriting the event—has treated the match as if it were a Six Nations game at Twickenham, and is charging ticket prices way beyond the norm in Japan.

Despite that, a large number of rugby fans are expected to make the trip to Tokyo, not just from the Antipodes, but from all over Asia. What’s more, the JRFU has—with the help of the Hong Kong-based Ironmonger Events—put together a decent hospitality program.

Stars of yesteryear will be in Tokyo entertaining guests as they watch a number of modern greats such as New Zealand’s Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, not to mention players like Australia’s James O’Connor and David Pocock, who could well be in their prime when the World Cup finally takes place here.

It may be pricey to watch the game, but with the Aussies desperate for revenge, it’s likely to be money well spent.

Bledisloe Cup
Australia vs. New Zealand. Oct 31. ¥7,000-¥70,000. National Stadium, Gaienmae. Tel: 0570-000777/03-3545-8589. http://bledisloecuptokyo.net/en