Duncan Smith: Rugby World Cup 2019 promises to be gloriously unpredictable

Can hosts Japan spring a surprise of 2015 proportions when they beat South Africa in Brighton? Picture: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images
Can hosts Japan spring a surprise of 2015 proportions when they beat South Africa in Brighton? Picture: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images
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U npredictability is the fuel that fires the beauty of sport and the Rugby World Cup, which kicks off on Friday when the hosts face Russia in Tokyo, will be like no other that has been held since the tournament was launched in 1987.

It is the first time that an “emerging” nation from outside the traditional Five Nations of the northern and big three from the southern hemispheres has hosted the event, but Japan have earned their spurs.

This is not, like the association football code’s ludicrous Qatar 2022 decision, a mad, highly questionable gamble. Japan have merited their status as a spirited rugby nation down the decades and produced one of the sport’s most memorable moments four years ago when they stunned the mighty Springboks in the “Brighton Miracle”.

In rugby terms, Japan may come under the minor nation category but as a nation it is easily the biggest, with a population of 126.8 million, to host rugby’s biggest tournament. Modern, high-tech, and always keen to show itself in the best light, it is a safe bet that Japan are going to be the perfect hosts to the rugby extravaganza that lies ahead.

With trademark efficiency, the brutal typhoon which struck last weekend has been shaken off in the past week as visiting teams have received warm welcomes around the Land of the Rising Sun, including Scotland at their Nagasaki holding camp.

Wales were treated to a word-perfect rendition of their iconic national anthem Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau by a Japanese choir as soon as they set foot in Kitakyushu, providing a perfect encapsulation of the welcome that awaits rugby fans from around the world who are lucky enough to be heading there for the sporting feast that stretches out over the coming seven weeks.

“We understand the responsibility that goes alongside being the host nation,” said Japan coach and former All Black Jamie Joseph. “I understand that it’s crucial for the ongoing development of the game that we play a brand of rugby that is exciting, attractive and great to watch.”

It is a reminder, if needed, that Scotland’s hopes of progressing may well come down to a passion-filled final Pool A match with the hosts in Yokohama.

Right now, we are under starter’s orders for the most open field in 32 years of Rugby World Cup history. Saddle up and enjoy the ride.