‘City by the sea’ trans­forms into Lit­tle Tokyo for day of cel­e­bra­tion

Brighton had em­braced Ja­pan visi­tors even be­fore they pro­duced rugby’s great­est gi­ant-killing act

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Sport Rugby World Cup 2015 - Paul Hayward CHIEF SPORTS WRITER at Brighton Com­mu­nity Sta­dium

Some peo­ple are born lucky. Brighton’s first Rugby World Cup fix­ture pro­duced prob­a­bly the great­est up­set in the com­pe­ti­tion’s history as Ja­pan, whose only vic­tory on this global stage was way back in 1991, struck with a last-gasp try to de­feat the mighty South Africa 34-32.

The decisive scorer’s name was Karne Hes­keth. Hardly res­o­nant of Tokyo, but who cares? Brighton res­i­dents asked them­selves: is it al­ways this good?

No, is the an­swer. This was an im­pos­si­ble re­sult, on vir­gin turf for the tour­na­ment. It left the Spring­boks shat­tered and treated us to one of the great gi­ant-killing acts on only the tour­na­ment’s sec­ond day.

Right to the fi­nal min­utes, no­body thought it pos­si­ble that a team who touched 100-1 in the bet­ting could de­feat a side who were 1-500 to win this game. But some sweet spirit was blow­ing Ja­pan to a bet­ter place in history.

The Spring­boks scored four tries and still lost. “I’m get­ting too old for this,” said Ed­die Jones, Ja­pan’s Aus­tralian coach, re­flect­ing on “three years” of ef­fort to win this game. “I’m 55. I should be in Bar­ba­dos watch­ing cricket.” Jones, who likes to stir a pot, said his dream in re­tire­ment was to “sit and crit­i­cise, like Clive Wood­ward. Tell Clive I said that,” he teased.

Ja­pan, though, are play­ing Scot­land in Glouces­ter on Wed­nes­day and Jones is go­ing nowhere yet. “We’re not done, mate,” he said. “We came here to make the quar­ter-fi­nals.” The next rugby World Cup will be held in a coun­try that had won one game in the tour­na­ment – a 52-8 vic­tory over Zim­babwe 24 years ago. But the sport’s big­gest event pitch­ing its tent in Ja­pan (2019) is no big deal now. In­stead, it seems a fit­ting re­ward. Sus­sex is strong on club rugby, but the town “that looks like it’s help­ing po­lice with their in­quiries,” ac­cord­ing to Keith Waterhouse, has never fea­tured strongly on the world rugby map. The ‘city by the sea’ has its race­course, with one toe still in the Brighton Rock era, county cricket at Hove and a cou­ple of lower league oval ball clubs. But the 15-man game was re­ally plant­ing a flag in un­known ter­ri­tory with this shock on the turf where Brighton and Hove Al­bion of football’s Cham­pi­onship ply their trade.

Ja­pan had lost 18 con­sec­u­tive World Cup fix­tures. That record hardly en­ti­tled them to take the torch four

Rugby rolled its tanks right on to crazy golf ’s lawn, on a day sum­mer warmth made a come­back

years from now but the en­ter­tain­ment they lav­ished on this au­di­ence had lo­cal hearts pound­ing.

You can make any claim you like on pa­per, but only when the event ar­rives can you tell whether the first-time hosts like what they see. Such is the en­thu­si­asm in Bri­tain for global sport­ing events that it is start­ing to sound like a re­dun­dant ques­tion. Wher­ever you send the matches, the lo­cals will em­brace them. There were said to be 300,000 ap­pli­ca­tions for the 29,000 tick­ets for each of this week­end’s games here: the ap­par­ent mis­match of the Spring­boks v the Brave Blos­soms and the tighter Sun­day con­test of USA v Samoa.

Event-cu­rios­ity is partly re­spon­si­ble. The Bri­tish public is drawn to­wards a buzz. It puts the ket­tle on for coun­tries it has prob­a­bly never been to. But you still have to do the mis­sion­ary work – and noth­ing beats a colos­sal up­set.

Brighton had al­ready been trans­formed into Lit­tle Tokyo. South African fans held their end up but were vastly out­num­bered by Ja­panese visi­tors and lo­cals favour­ing the un­der­dog. In town, the Old Steine be­came a Ja­panese zone, with food by Moshimo res­tau­rant, a ground­breaker in the town’s culi­nary diver­si­fi­ca­tion. In fact, you could say the av­er­age Brighton hipster needs no sec­ond in­vi­ta­tion to eat sushi while strik­ing a zeit­geist pose.

The fan zone on Brighton beach is the most pho­to­genic of this World Cup: right next to the pier, and be­neath the Wheel (a mini-Lon­don Eye). Rugby rolled its tanks right on to crazy golf ’s lawn, on a day when sum­mer warmth made a come­back. On the prom­e­nade, Ja­panese news crews sent back im­ages of the clas­sic English sea­side. In Brighton, the Kiss-me-quick her­itage is still vis­i­ble but is now over­lain by a more know­ing, trendy cul­ture.

Samoa’s Faifili Le­vave picked up on that Lon­don­i­sa­tion (as lo­cals like to grum­ble). He en­thused about Brighton’s “very funky-cool vibe” but knows there are some places a pro­fes­sional rugby player must not go. “I haven’t made my way down the pier,” he said. “I’m told there are some good dough­nuts down there. Hence why I don’t want to head down there.” Birm­ing­ham is next for Samoa, but Le­vave ad­mit­ted: “We don’t re­ally want to leave Brighton.”

Sport is so ubiq­ui­tous that vis­it­ing teams of­ten fail to catch the eye. But there has been a gen­uine in­ter­est on the South Coast.

A hand­ful of Spring­boks hav­ing fish and chips in an East­bourne res­tau­rant made the lo­cal pa­per. Whether this trans­lates to school­child­ren aban­don­ing screens and Premier League football in favour of this bruis­ing and com­pli­cated sport is another mat­ter. Yet prox­im­ity breeds in­ter­est; good pre­sen­ta­tion gen­er­ates good mem­o­ries and leaves peo­ple want­ing more.

A lot of cam­paign­ing and love went into the cre­ation of this so-called ‘Premier League-ready’ ground, which opened in July 2011. Cham­pi­onship football and con­certs have kept the lights ablaze in its down­land nest.

Those in this sup­pos­edly louche sea­side com­mu­nity who were watch­ing a rugby in­ter­na­tional live for the first time will never for­get the val­our and skill of Ja­pan.

The sea air did more than re­vive them. It turned then into Tro­jans.

Na­tional pride: Ja­pan savour the against-the-odds win that has set the World Cup tour­na­ment alight

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