Around the Cup: Shizuoka sensation lights up social media

Rugby World Cup
by RUGBY.com.au staff

Already one week down in the 2019 Rugby World Cup and there's been plenty going on all around the country.

Keep up with all the news from around the tournament right here.

For match updates, click here.

SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 28

WORLD RUGBY

Japan's sensational Shizuoka win over Ireland has lit up social media around the world. 

The match is on track to have the largest domestic audience for a rugby match in Japan and the largest live audience of 2019, with a 22.4 per cent of the TV audience at the time tuning in.

Japan's victory was trending on Twitter as well in Japan, with the top five topics on the microblogging platform, while it was also trenfing in the UK and Ireland, while there were more than 700,000 uses of the official hashtags globally.

World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “This tournament is shaping up to be something very special on and off the field. Japan’s victory has excited a nation and captured the imagination of the world with exceptional social and digital media reaction. This tournament is big in Japan.”

FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 27

USA

USA flanker John Quill and Samoa's Motu Matu'u were both slapped with three-game bans on Friday, becoming the third and fourth players to be suspended in six days following a crackdown on high tackles at the Rugby World Cup.

Quill received his suspension for a late high shot on England's Owen Farrell, while Matu'u was punished for his tackle on Russia's Vasily Artemyev.

Australia wing Reece Hodge and Samoa centre Rey Lee-Lo have already been hit with three-game bans for high tackles at the World Cup, while England's Piers Francis has been cited.

World Rugby announced a clampdown on high tackles, which can sometimes cause concussion, before the quadrennial tournament, and introduced a framework to help referees decide punishments.

However, the governing body also criticised refereeing standards after the opening weekend of the tournament, following complaints over a number of incidents.

NEW ZEALAND

All Blacks hardman Joe Moody claimed Friday that "99.9 percent" of head-high tackles were accidental, as the World Cup produced its first red card amid heavy scrutiny of head shots.

Hits to the head were not deliberate and "not really in the forefront of your brain", said the tough-as-teak Moody, a former New Zealand wrestling champion.

"I don't think anybody's ever, out on the field, trying to put in high shots or anything like that. I'd say 99.9 percent of the time it's accidental -- just slip-ups," he said.

After World Rugby criticised the performance of referees in the opening matches at the global showpiece, there has been a flurry of yellow cards and on Thursday the first red card when United States flanker John Quill was sent off for a shoulder to the head of England's Owen Farrell.

England centre Piers Francis was cited Friday for a dangerous high tackle in the same match which escaped the attention of officials at the time.

Australian Reece Hodge and Samoa's Rey Lee-Lo have both received three-match bans for dangerous tackles and Samoan hooker Motu Matu'u is waiting to hear the outcome of his appearance before the judiciary for a high tackle.

It has been drummed into the All Blacks that one rash moment in the play-offs could cost a penalty and the three points could be the difference between winning and losing the cup.

Moody has history with the judiciary and was considered lucky to escape punishment during New Zealand's opener against South Africa.

Video emerged after the game which appeared to show the prop make contact with the heads of Springboks Malcolm Marx and Duane Vermeulen.

Last year, he copped a two-match suspension for elbowing Australian Kurtley Beale in the head during a Super Rugby game.

Moody, a genial giant off the field, takes on a tough persona as an All Black where he plays hard and is recognised as one of the world's leading loosehead props.

He said the players were all told before the start of the World Cup what the referees were focusing on and how long suspensions would be for but in the split seconds of a Test, there was little between a legal and illegal tackle.

"It doesn't really matter now whether it's a heavy shot and a guy gets knocked out or whether it's just a graze but you've made contact with the head -- you're going to get the same penalty for it," he said.

"There's a very fine line especially if the player is falling, ducking low or whatever."

"The best circumstances for the defender, we always practice to dip late and get under the ball so for the majority of the time we're trying to get low," he added.

"But it's the ones where you get caught in a bad position and end up throwing an arm out or just hit high" that prove costly."

All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor said his preference was always to tackle low but "the risk is you're going to get a head to the hip and knock yourself out".

JAPAN

Japan's Kotaro Matsushima has been likened to a Ferrari, but he admits he'll have to be at full throttle in Saturday's World Cup clash with Ireland to avoid becoming roadkill.

The flying winger scored a sizzling treble as the host nation beat Russia 30-10 in last week's Pool A opener, prompting gushing praise from Japan coach Jamie Joseph.

But after earning his racing stripes, Matsushima was asked Friday about chunky Irish winger Jacob Stockdale, who he will come face to face with in Shizuoka.

"If I'm a Ferrari, he's a three-tonne truck -- and a fast one," said Japan's hat-trick hero.

"But hopefully I'll see plenty of the ball and can use my speed and have an impact."

Ireland centre Garry Ringrose believes shutting down the prolific Matsushima will be key.

The Irish, who pummelled Scotland 27-3 in their opening game, crushed Japan in back-to-back Tests two years ago, the first at Ecopa stadium, the venue for Saturday's showdown.

"He was incredibly good back then and obviously he's gone from strength to strength," Ringrose said of Matsushima, who has scored nine tries in his last seven Tests.

"Japan are definitely a different beast to what they were two years ago. We're under no illusions how difficult it will be."

Ireland, who have never won a World Cup knockout match, are favourites to top Pool A, but flanker Peter O'Mahony insisted they would not underestimate Japan -- no longer viewed as tournament whipping boys after humiliating South Africa on England's south coast four years ago.

ENGLAND 

England's Piers Francis was cited for foul play on Friday after a tackle that left USA fullback Will Hooley concussed at the Rugby World Cup.

Francis will appear before a three-member independent judicial committee in Tokyo, following England's 45-7 win over the Eagles in Kobe on Thursday.

The centre made the tackle from the opening kick-off in an incident that drew wide commentary on social media.

His citing comes after Australia's Reece Hodge and Rey Lee-Lo of Samoa both received three-match bans for high tackles, which are under heavy scrutiny at the Rugby World Cup.

Samoan hooker Motu Matu'u also faced a hearing on Thursday afternoon but the verdict from that case is yet to be announced.

American flanker John Quill has also been cited for a late shot on England captain Owen Farrell in the same game.

World Rugby has introduced a new framework for policing high tackles, and the governing body took the unusual step of criticising refereeing standards after the tournament's first weekend.

THURSDAY SEPTEMBER 26

SAMOA

Samoa's Rey Lee-Lo received a three-match ban on Thursday for a high tackle at the Rugby World Cup, ruling him out of the rest of the pool stage.

The Cardiff Blues centre was yellow-carded in the first half of Samoa's Pool A win over Russia on Tuesday for his challenge on fullback Vasily Artemyev.

But a three-member independent disciplinary committee found that it was a red-card offence, handing Lee-Lo a three-game suspension that will expire after Samoa's final pool game on October 12.

"The committee deemed that the incident was an act of foul play and warranted a red card in line with the high tackle sanction framework," a statement said.

There was no word on Lee-Lo's team-mate, London Irish hooker Motu Matu'u, who was sin-binned for a separate high tackle on the same player.

In both cases, French referee Romain Poite decided against giving a red card, saying there were mitigating circumstances for the high shots as Artemyev stooped as he was tackled.

Lee-Lo will miss Samoa's crucial second Pool A clash with Scotland on Monday, as well as their games against hosts Japan on October 5 and Ireland a week later.

High tackles are under heavy scrutiny after World Rugby devised new guidelines for policing them. However, the governing body also took the highly unusual step of criticising refereeing standards after the first weekend of the World Cup.

On Wednesday, Australia wing Reece Hodge also received a three-match ban for a high tackle that went unpunished at the time, and on Thursday, the United States' John Quill became the first player to be red-carded after a high shot on England's Owen Farrell.

Lee-Lo's teammate Motu Matu'u also faced a hearing on Thursday evening but the panel reserved its judgement, with the verdict to be handed down on Friday.

Already, there is another player set to join the list of World Cup judicial attendees - USA's John Quill was sent off against England for a dangerous tackle and will face a hearing in the coming days.

NAMIBIA

When you live in Australia, it's easy to forget that plenty of the players featuring in the Rugby World Cup are amateurs.

Namibia's Thomasau Forbes is one player who juggles rugby with a day job in a bank and he spoke about the contrast on Thursday.

"Well I enjoy this much more than the day job," he said.

"It's always special playing for your country, especially at a World Cup. I'm going to make the most of it while I'm here and see what happens.

"I've got a good relationship with my work so for the past two months they were quite lenient with me leaving when I needed to.

"I would wake up at 5.30am for a morning session in the gym and finish at 8.30am. I'd get to work at 9am. Work throughout lunch, sometimes eat at my desk. Finish at 4.30pm and go back to the field again. Then back home at 8pm maybe, eat, pack my bag and sleep."

WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 25

SAMOA

Samoan duo Rey Lee-Lo and Motu Matu’u have been cited for dangerous tackles in their win over Russia on Tuesday night.

Both players created a stir on social media with massive tackles that were yellow-carded during the match.

The pair will face judicial hearings in Tokyo later this week, with the date and time yet to be confirmed.

World Rugby's decision to cite the pair effectively means the citing commissioner deemed both clear and obvious red card offences, contrary to the on-field decision.

The citations came just hours after World Rugby's referees released a statement saying they had performed below set standards in the opening weekend of the tournament.

Winger Ed Fidow was also issued a warning under Law 9.12 (punching and striking).

NEW ZEALAND

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says defence is the " big winner" in the early stages of this Rugby World Cup.

Speaking to media in Beppu, Hansen said the competitiveness of defences from around the world was clear to see in the opening weekend.

"Defence is the big winner at the moment, isn’t it. Line speed, everyone’s bringing it," he said.

"Georgia, apart from a couple of set-piece tries, really took it to Wales defensively. That's where our game is at the moment. Defence is king, dominating the game. Hopefully, it's cyclical; defence will dominate until someone finds a recipe to change that and then attack will come back."

Refereeing has also dominated the public conversation, with World Rugby releasing a statement on Tuesday night saying that referees admitted they were below set standards in the opening weekend. 

The All Blacks have come under fire for some alleged foul play against the Springboks last weekend, with images circulated on social media and sparking controversy over missed infringements, but Hansen said he wasn't worried about that commentary.

"I don't take much notice of it. You can get shots of anything if you want," he said.

"There's a judicial system that's been in place for a long time and whether you like it or not, they've been pretty staunch on what they're about so if it gets past those guys, then move on. We're not judged by social media."

That social media opens the door for public outrage to spread quicker than ever about refereeing decisions, or non-decisions, has created conjecture about whether that outrage can influence decision-makers when it comes to citings.

Former Wallabies hooker Phil Kearns said earlier this week that public pressure had led to the citing of Reece Hodge but Hansen said he didn't believe social media was to blame in the process.

"Fiji didn't have to go via social media to go to the Judicial Committee (after the Australia match)," he said.

"You get asked every game regarding anything you want to put up and if you feel like you've got something to put up, you put it up. South Africa obviously didn't feel like they had anything and we didn’t have anything and the citing commissioner didn't see anything.

''Social media is part of our society and I can’t worry about that. Worry about the stuff you can control. What people put on social media doesn't bother me a hoot."

Sonny Bill apologises for Instagram controversy confusion

In other news out of the New Zealand camp, All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams has been forced to apologise to a Malaysian-based photographer after publishing a photo of himself on Instagram with the photographer's credit removed.

When the photo, showing Williams and fellow All Black Muslim Ofa Tu'ungafasi praying before the Springboks Test, was posted on social media, it was quickly removed by Instagram citing copyright issues.

Williams then directed a second message at Instagram questioning why the photo had been removed, asking: "Surely a simple picture of someone expressing their gratitude for what they've been blessed with is OK?".

But on learning the fault lay with republishing the photo without crediting photographer Faiz Azizan, Williams was quick to repost the image on Instagram with Azizan's name included.

"Asalamualiakum (peace be with you) brother, please forgive me for the misunderstanding," Williams said.

"I was sent the photo that already had your name cropped out, if I'd known before I posted I would've tagged you as you captured a beautiful moment."

Williams converted to Islam in 2008, and Tu'ungafasi converted after 51 Muslims were killed in an attack on two mosques in New Zealand earlier this year.

TUESDAY SEPTEMBER 24

SCOTLAND

Scotland's World Cup hopes have suffered a third major blow in as many days after halfback Ali Price was ruled out for the remainder of the tournament.

Edinburgh's Henry Pyrgos is now flying out to Japan to join up with Gregor Townsend's squad.

But the news means more disappointment for the head coach as it follows on from Sunday's abject display in the 27-3 loss to Pool A rivals Ireland and Monday's confirmation that flanker Hamish Watson's World Cup campaign is also over.

Watson has been replaced by Magnus Bradbury.

Price sustained a foot injury in the Scots' opening clash at the International Stadium Yokohama and was spotted on crutches as the team boarded a bullet train to Kobe yesterday.

But he has now been given the news he was dreading after scans confirmed he would play no further part in the tournament.

Pyrgos is scheduled to arrive in Japan on Thursday and take his place in the 31-man group preparing to face Samoa at the Kobe Misaki Stadium on Monday.

"We're disappointed for Ali (Price) to have to return home so early in the tournament," Townsend said, via a statement.

"Both Ali and Hamish (Watson) had invested a lot of effort into being in their best physical shape for the World Cup and it's a shame that they've only been involved in one game."

FANS

The best story of the World Cup so far? It's got to be Bak-san. 

This Japanese rugby fan made a pre-match pledge to paint himself - yes, paint - in the colours of every nation in the Rugby World Cup at least once through the tournament.

He has already made sensational progress this week - take a look for yourself.

ARGENTINA

Mario Ledesma has apologised for slamming referee Angus Gardner after his side's loss to France. Photo: Getty ImagesArgentina head coach Mario Ledesma apologised on Monday for his heat-of-the-moment criticism of the referee after his side lost to France 23-21 in agonising last-minute fashion at the weekend.

Ledesma launched a broadside at Australia match official Angus Gardner in his post-match interview, complaining his side was being refereed like a "small nation" -- comments that drew fire even in Argentinian media.

A contrite Ledesma appeared before reporters on Monday to say: "If I am here, it is to apologise to the people I may have offended -- and to the values of rugby."

"It wasn't my intention. I am convinced that I am still a good ambassador for those values and those of my family and the fact anyone could have doubted that... saddens me a bit," added Ledesma.

Ledesma was incensed after Gardner refused to award his side a last-gasp ruck penalty in the nailbiting Pool C loss that left Los Pumas contemplating an early exit from the 2019 World Cup.

But he acknowledged he had misspoken.

"Speaking about 'small nations' or words to that effect was uncalled-for.

And when you make a mistake, you have to apologise. That seems the most logical thing to me," he added.

He said he had also sent an official letter to World Rugby about the incident, which earned him a sharp rebuke back home.

Argentinina newspaper La Nacion said that the coach had "forgotten the fundamentals of rugby" and had sent a "dangerous and harmful message".

"In any club in Argentina, boys learn that 'the referee is always right',"

said the paper.

Ledesma stressed he had no reason to call into question the impartiality or integrity of Gardner, whom he said he knew from his team as assistant coach to Wallabies' Michael Cheika.

His words came from "frustration at losing a match it was possible to win,"

said Ledesma, adding: "I do not want people to think that we lost because of the referee."

To progress beyond the pool stages, Argentina will in all likelihood need to beat England, as well as the less highly regarded teams in the pool, Tonga and the United States.

WORLD RUGBY

in good news for rugby fans, World Rugby announced on Monday it would lift its ban on outside food being brought into World Cup venues.

Fans were complaining of long waits for food and beverage in the first round of matches and some venues reportedly even ran out of food at stages.

While spectators will still need to queue up for alcohol, they can now bring their own food from home.

Common sense prevails.

MONDAY SEPTEMBER 23

SOUTH AFRICA

Springboks prop Trevor Nyakane has been ruled out of the Rugby World Cup with a calf injury, with Thomas du Toit en route the 

Du Toit has been on standby in France and was called up for Nyakane, set to arrive in Japan in the coming days.

Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus he felt for Nyakane who has been an important part of the side.

“It’s very tough on Trevor,” he said.

“He has had a great season and added value whenever he took the field.

"It’s a blow to him and the team, but it’s also an opportunity for Thomas and for Vincent [Koch] who now have the chance to step up.”

SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 22

Retiring France centre Wesley Fofana was ruled out of the rest of the Rugby World Cup on Saturday and replaced by uncapped Pierre-Louis Barassi, the French Rugby Union announced.

Fofana, 31, who announced earlier in the year he would end his international career after the tournament, has failed to recover from a thigh problem.

He missed Les Bleus' tense 23-21 victory over Argentina on Saturday due to the injury as Gael Fickou and Virimi Vakatawa started their campaign opener.

The Clermont midfielder played the last of his 48 Tests in the victory over Italy in August where he picked up the issue.

Barassi, 21, who plays for Lyon, was part of France's junior World Cup-winning side in 2018 along with fly-half Romain Ntamack and prop Demba Bamba.

Jacques Brunel's side face the US next on October 2 before playing Tonga and England in Pool C with their hopes of making the quarter-finals high following the Pumas win.

GEORGIA

Georgia coach Milton Haig made a lethal promise to himself after the 2015 Rugby World Cup to ensure his team had more X-Factor and he is confident they have brought it.

"I think what we've done is go for a mix of both experience and youth," he said.

"We've been playing these (younger) players for the past two years purely for the fact that when we got to this World Cup they would have double-digit numbers of caps to their name.

"In 2015, I said if we didn't come to 2019 with a bit more 'X factor' that I would shoot myself, and thankfully I don't have to do that. I think we've got a little bit more young blood that can actually use the ball a bit better and step a bit better and that's why they are in the team."

Haig's side play Wales on Monday night to round out the first week of matches at the Rugby World Cup and the Georgians will be going up against Wales's strongest side.

"They've named their number one side that's available for selection, and for us that's credible," he said.

"They understand last time we met them in Cardiff it was 13-6 (in Wales' favour) and we built some credibility in that match, so I'm pretty sure Warren and his coaching team have looked at that and will want to make sure they've got a strong side out.

"That's great for us, as we want to play against the best players in the world and four weeks ago they were ranked No.1 in the world.

So instead of looking at it as a disadvantage, I think it's something we can talk to our boys about and actually use to say: 'Look how serious these boys are taking us,' and that's got to be good for us."