For most nations taking part in this memorable tournament today was the day it came alive and the results became even more important as the group positions were settled. First up was Brazil v France with the match going to form and France winning 52-38. Next up NZ v Canada with that result also no great surprise as Canada took the game 58-41. Then the big one – Australia v USA. It was another of those great games to watch with both sides trading tries neck and neck for much of the game but perhaps with USA always having the edge. Towards the end the pressure on Australia showed, there were a few loose balls from them and the USA came out on top 55-51.
Next up GB v Japan and the one everyone had been waiting for today. It was our first test of the tournament and with the hosts playing there was a full venue with plenty of noise and excitement. The game was preceded by a reception hosted by the IWRF President Richard Allcroft at which I was able to invite some of our hosts from Kitakyushu. It was a great pleasure to have Deputy Mayor Mr Hiroshi Imanaga, Executive Director Takahiro Miura and our Team Liaison Officer Yoshikuri Oshita join us. Even more humbling was the fact that they came with a large Union Flag and supported GB! Kitakyushi City have become such wonderful friends and supporters of GBWR in the same way as they have taken Wales rugby into their hearts. It was also encouraging to see Brett Gosper, CEO World Rugby at the game with some of his Board colleagues. All enjoyed what was an amazing atmosphere in the venue and a fantastic spectacle of rugby.
The game itself was very much one of two halves. GB led at the end of Q1 by 17-16 and it was all equal at half time with 30 tries each. The GB lines up to then had matched Japan try by try and had worked hard to combat the height and throw of Yukinobu Ike with great success, though the combination of Ike and Ikezaki is a handful for any team and at the start of the second half GB started to unravel. There were some good phases in the last two quarters but at Q3 we were 4 tries down at 44-40 and we finished the match 6 tries down 57-51. After such a promising start it was a disappointing end but the positive is that we had already qualified for the semi finals and we will now regroup, refocus and look towards the next game. We will be conscious that the USA are always strong and are looking good here, but equally we were able to defeat them in three games in Lakeshore so we know they are not invincible. Today’s semi-finals are 1615 local time Australia v Japan and then our game v USA at 1915. The only downside is that they clash with the England v Australia game so someone is going to have to text me a minute by minute update of that one!