Having failed to win any tickets in the ballots for matches in Tokyo or Yokohama I had no choice but to look further afield for matches that would fit in with my working schedule. Shizuoka was my first choice as I had never been to Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa. I’m slowly visiting every stadium used at the 2002 FIFA World Cup and this particular one hosted three matches in that tournament; Cameroon vs Germany, Belgium vs Russia and the quarter final match between England and Brazil which was decided by Ronaldinho lobbing Seaman from 40 yards.
When thinking of South Africa it is the Clint Eastwood-directed film ‘Invictus‘ (2009) which sadly comes to my mind first. (*) It tells the story of South Africa’s historical World Cup win on home soil in 1995 which helped President Nelson Mandela unite a previously divided nation. It has to be said though that some of the match-action shots are awful and ridden with mistakes.
South Africa against Italy was a match that stuck out on my list of possible games to attend although to be honest it probably was something of a commiseration or desperation choice at that time due to my consistent failure to secure tickets for more local matches in the ballots. Little did I know that I would be able to attend a couple of other matches as well as see the Springboks a month before this one when they got revenge on Japan for that famous World Cup defeat in 2015.
When I booked the ticket I just assumed the stadium was around the Shizuoka city area but then I realised that it was actually closer towards Hamamatsu in the far west of the prefecture, and not so far from the Yamaha Stadium in Iwate. It can be done in 90 minutes via the bullet train but for me it was a journey that would take over five hours on local trains! Relatively small fry for a guy like me who has done much, much longer ones but five hours plus is sufficient enough for just a match!
Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa is the host for four group matches including the shock win for Japan against Ireland that took place six days before this one. Aino Station is the closest and was constructed at the same time as the stadium. Outside the station I finally got to meet up with @GifuRichy (and his wife) having failed to meet when I went to Gifu in May this year.
He soon challenged me to try my hand at a rugby ball throwing activity as he had supposedly got one through the highest points score! I had three shots to try and throw the ball through the small 50 point hole but failed miserably on the first two. However, on my final shot….I got close but still missed! I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve thrown a rugby ball in nearly three decades!!
The convenience store down the road was absolutely packed (both inside and out!) so we had to just bite the bullet and pay 300 yen for a couple of Asahi beer cans outside. Not too far from there was a Peruvian food stand which I recognised from somewhere but I wasn’t sure where. I later realised that I’d seen it on my friend Mac’s YouTube video from the aforementioned Japan vs Ireland game. I’m not sure how Peruvian a quarter roast chicken and chips is but for 500 yen it was a bargain and tasted great.
The walk to the stadium really was reminiscent of Wembley Way with a straight and direct pedestrian-only walkway leading to it. As I’d never been to this stadium, this route did help build the excitement as I got closer and closer. Entrance for me with my Category B ticket was thankfully the nearest point of entry.
I’d never seen Italy play so was actually quite excited about that too. Their record in the Six Nations is fairly poor (having joined in 2000) and they have more often than not ended up with the wooden spoon. However, they’ve had their moments and have managed to defeat France, Wales and Scotland on occasion. They also managed to win their first two matches of this World Cup against Namibia and Canada meaning that if they could spring a surprise here then they’d go through to the knock out stages at the expense of the Springboks.
Some media were building this game up because of the need for South Africa to win it but I never believed that Italy would spring a surprise on them like Japan did in the last World Cup.
I was proved right early on as the team in green scored a try within five minutes right down in my corner. However, the Italians did fight back a bit but just could not get the ball over the line for a try and went in 17-3 down at the break.
Again the Italians got so close to scoring a try following a great breakaway straight after the restart. They had been given a penalty but then Andrea Lovotti foolishly picked up an opposition player and dropped him on his head. He was inevitably shown a red card for that idiotic tip-tackle and with that went any remote chance of a comeback.
There was some good running play after that, particularly around the 56 minute mark when there were a few successive breakaways in play which really got the crowd of 44,148 on their feet. It was end to end stuff but then eventually the South Africans broke through to get their bonus point (for their fourth try) which extended their lead and a few more tries followed after that as their tally increased.
Final Score: South Africa 49 – 3 Italy
With the game well and truly over I left with 78 minutes on the clock just because I was worried about congestion at the station. Thousands of others had the same idea and had been drifting out from about the 70th minute if not a bit early. The walkway leading directly back to the station was really busy but I was able to pull out a few sidesteps to get there as quickly as I could.
I have to say that it was well organised at the station for getting such huge crowds efficiently on to the platform and then on to the trains with fairly minimal waiting time. I thought I’d have a much longer wait but the idea to separate the two exits for the direction you were going in was a good one.
Two hours later I was in Mishima where I spent the night. Having checked in at 11:30 pm I was out again just after 6am but not before I had a quick look out my hotel room’s window. I was quite surprised to have something of a view and got to enjoy it for about 30 seconds before I checked out and headed back to Tokyo (by local train of course!) for work that morning.
There was just time en-route to the station to see this Megumi-no-ko (Megumi and Ko – the name of the dolls) attraction.
Click here to read ‘Japan & South Africa Meet For The First Time Since “That” Huge Shock In 2015’
Click here to read ‘A Manic Sunday As Wales & Australia Met At The Rugby World Cup’
Click here to read ‘The Highs & Lows Of Watching England’s First Match At The Rugby World Cup In Sapporo’
Click here to read ‘TF Film Review: Invictus (2009)’
(*) Other (loosely based) rugby-based movies, excluding documentaries, include ‘Handsome Devil‘ (2017), ‘Forever Strong‘ (2008) and ‘This Sporting Life‘ (1963) although the latter is actually about rugby league rather than union. I watched all of these to help get me in the mood for the Rugby World Cup which kicked off on September 21st.
Since the tournament started ‘The Miracle Of Brighton‘ (2019) has come out on Amazon Prime and it is well worth watching as it tells the story of Japan’s famous victory over South Africa with Temuera Morrison (a.k.a. Jango Fett from ‘Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones‘) portraying Eddie Jones who was the Brave Blossoms Coach at that time.