Russians add fun and flavor to World Cup opener in Japan

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TOKYO — Inside Tokyo Stadium: An elaborate opening ceremony to kick off the first match of the Rugby World Cup, and the first World Cup in Asia.

Outside Tokyo Stadium: That’s where the real action was as seven Russians paraded around and impersonated a rocket ship to entertain fans before the match.

The Russian fans wore red shirts and silver-metallic caps to resemble cosmonauts, and were led by one of them carrying a nose cone at the front, and another at the rear lugging cardboard rocket engines — just hours before the game between host Japan and Russia on Friday.

They snaked around other ticket holders, drew crowds of cameras, and sang Russia’s national anthem as they paused for applause.

“Rugby is still a bit exotic in Russia,” said fellow Russian Nikolay Sheviakov as he watched his countrymen go by.

Sheviakov said he had traveled from Moscow and planned to watch several World Cup games in Japan. And he was among hundreds of Russians milling around outside, many wearing blue and red baseball caps, a few with fury-looking winter hats, or shirts with “Russia” written on the back in English and Japanese.

“I trust in the future of our country that one day we will be the best in rugby,” Sheviakov said.

But not yet.

The result was disappointing for the visitors — Japan 30, Russia 10 — but not surprising. Russia is one of the lower-ranked teams in the World Cup and got in when Romania was disqualified for using an ineligible player.

Nothing else was a letdown.

“Good beer, good sake, and very good people here,” Sheviakov said.

If Friday is any indication, it’s going to be a cheerful six weeks until the championship match on Nov. 2 in Yokohama.

Beer was for sale as soon as fans stepped out of the train station near the stadium in far west Tokyo. In fact, at the first station exit, right next to the “Good Dreams” cafe and bar, there was a sign in Russian that read: “Welcome Russia.” With, of course, beer for sale from that point and all the way to the stadium — about a 10-minute walk away.

Parthasarathy Prasanna, a volunteer from India working outside the stadium, said he counted almost a dozen nationalities who posed behind a board he carried depicting the World Cup uniforms of Japan and Russia. His job was to welcome visitors to the match.

“South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Italy,” he said, clicking off the nationalities who’d posed behind his board. “That’s part of the attraction.”

He said he works as a sales manager in Japan for an Indian technology company, and volunteered to get close to the action.

“I love sports. It’s better to get in, in any capacity. That’s my motto.”

World Rugby postponing July test matches

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World Rugby has postponed July test matches involving southern and northern hemisphere nations because of ongoing restrictions on international travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

The sport’s international governing body issued a statement Friday saying the mid-year test window will be rescheduled when cross-border travel and quarantine regulations are relaxed.

New Zealand had been scheduled to play Wales and Scotland, Australia was set to play Ireland and Fiji and South Africa had planned to host Scotland and Georgia. World Rugby said the postponement is due “to ongoing government and health agency COVID-19 directives.”

Bill Beaumont re-elected as World Rugby chairman

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Former England captain Bill Beaumont has been re-elected as World Rugby chairman on Saturday after beating Agustín Pichot, the current vice-chairman.

The sport’s governing body says the 68-year-old Beaumont achieved a first-round majority of 28 votes to 23.

Beaumont says: “I am honored to accept the mandate of the World Rugby Council to serve as the international federation’s chairman once again.”

He begins his four-year term after a council meeting on May 12.

French rugby federation president Bernard Laporte becomes Beaumont’s new vice-chairman.