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Bleater's Blog
  1. Bleater in Japan
  2. The Grassroots Season Starts
  3. Not Long Now!
  4. Japan Still Beckons
  5. Japan Beckons
  6. Nearly Time To Look Ahead
  7. The Summer Break is Here
  8. The Final Countdown
  9. Yet another section of drivel
  10. The Season Continues for a Little Longer
  11. The 6 Nations Continues
  12. Six Nations and More
  13. It's RWC Year!!
  14. Its Definitely Winter
  15. Winter is here. Brrrr!!!
  16. Its the Autumn, soon to be Winter
  17. We Are Off And Running
  18. The New Season Approaches
  19. Still the Summer Tours Go On
  20. The Summer Internationals Plus, Plus
  21. The Season Climax Approaches
  22. Summer is Coming
  23. Another Section, More Drivel
  24. 2018 Already!!!! It'll soon be Xmas
  25. The Season Approaches the Half Way Point
  26. The Season Takes Shape
  27. The Season Starts
  28. More Pre-Season Build Up
  29. Pre-Season and Other Stuff
  30. The Lions Tested
  31. The Lions Roar
  32. We Are Still Counting Down
  33. It's All About The Lions
  34. The Countdown to Season's End
  35. The Season Continues Apace
  36. It's Time for the 6 Nations
  37. 2017 - Let The Fun Begin
  38. The Big Man Will Be Here Soon
  39. Let's Countdown to You Know What
  40. It's Time For Europe
  41. The Season Is Well Underway
  42. At Last Let The Competition Begin
  43. Not Long to the New Season
  44. Not So Much Rugby Now
  45. Still Plenty of Rugby to Debate
  46. The Summer Break
  47. Here Comes Summer
  48. They Think It's All Over
  49. Jones - A New Era
  50. It Was A Grand Slam!!!!
  51. 6 Nations - A Grand Slam??
  52. Six Nations 2016
  53. A New Captain, A New Start
  54. Welcome to 2016
  55. The Countdown to Christmas
  56. Winter Has Arrived
  57. November Movember
  58. The World Cup Is Over
  59. Rugby World Cup Quarters
  60. Rugby World Cup into the knockout stages
  61. Rugby World Cup Day 9 to Day 24
  62. Rugby World Cup Day 1 to Day 8
  63. Sept 9th to Sept 17th
  64. August 24th to September 7th
  65. August 11th to August 23rd
  66. July 16th to August 9th
  67. July 1st to July 15th
  68. June 17th to June 29th
  69. June 2nd to June 16th
  70. May 19th to June 1st
  71. May 7th to May 17th
  72. April 28th to May 6th
  73. April 22nd to April 27th
  74. April 13th to April 21st
  75. March 13th to Aprill 11th
  76. March 5th to March 12th
Bleater in Japan
Bleater's Blog 1 of 76

1. Bleater in Japan

Wednesday 23rd Oct: 16:30(JPN)

A little bit to add to yesterday’s adventures. When we arrived in Nagaski at 12:49 precisely because that was the time the train was due to arrive we went straight to the hotel, just 90 seconds walk away. As we strolled into the foyer we were met by a very nice girl that advised us check-in was not until 14:00 precisely. Didn’t matter whether the room was ready or not if Japan lady says 2pm check-in then it is 2pm check-in. This is one minor downside of Japanese culture; they can be a little inflexible.

The weather was hot so we went for a gentle stroll to the Dejima water front. This was the entry and exit point for all trade in the 16th century when the Dutch ruled the roost and had a monopoly on trade with a “closed” Japan. As it was a public holiday: the Emperors enthronement, there were lots of people in the park and along the waterfront soaking up the rays. We did much the same by walking to the Dutch quarter and then back to the waterfront where a couple of large glasses of Kirin awaited. Kirin, another fine Japanese beer.

After a long hot day we had an early night but not until we had enjoyed a bottle of wine and some nibbles from the Family Mart. Blimey Bleater that’s boring. Maybe, but tonight it is out on the town followed by Shuba Shuba: the cook your own meat and vegetables in hot spicy broth accompanied by all things Japanese: rice and noodles.

Before I get to the rugby, this morning was a trip to the Nagasaki Peace Memorial Park and Museum. No less harrowing than Hiroshima, no less difficult on the emotions. The park was beautifully done with touching memorials to the dead enhanced by sculptures gifted by many nations. The museum was difficult as it was less crowded than Hiroshima therefore you had more time to dwell at the exhibits and take in the true horror of what happened on August 9th 1945 at 11:02. As was the case in Hiroshima no punches were pulled and the madness of nuclear weapons became very clear. The real nightmare is the fingers on the trigger right now are people with little self-control and the thought of North Korea and/or Iran getting nuclear weapon capability fills me with dread. As I said last time I defy anyone not to struggle to hold back the tears.

A couple of thoughts. The bombs did bring an end to the conflict and whilst 150,000 people lost their lives in Nagasaki it probably saved many more with the declaration of peace. On the flight to Japan I watched a film about Red Joan who gave the Russians the secrets of atomic weaponry. Found guilty of treason history might just prove she ultimately did the world a favour. A good film, try and watch it.

The rest of the day has been spent visiting shrines, temples and other tourist attractions such as the Meganebashi Bridgh aka Spectacles Bridge. With the weather forecast to rain we retreated to the hotel to catch up on the news. By the way the rain arrived precisely at 15:40 as forecast by Japanese lady on terry.

The rugby news is pretty bland. King Eddie is shooting his mouth off again. He is such an arse. Winding up the opposition achieves nothing. He also believes his training sessions have been spied on. God that must have been boring for the spy: kick, chase, smash up front, kick, chase, smash up front, second verse same as the first just a little bit louder, a little bit worse.

Moriarty tells of his relief only to receive a yellow card. Yep! Probably rightly so.

Jaco “the elbow” Peyper has been removed from the spotlight with Nigel Owens taking centre stage with England v New Zealand and Jerome Garces handling Wales v South Africa.

Wales have called up wing Owen Lane to replace Josh Navidi. I would have gone for Scott Williams as we are short of centre cover.

Michael Cheika resigns. No surprise there.

Now to an apology: there will be many great players retiring after this tournament but I want to applaud two. Rory Best and Michael Leitch have been amazing servants to their country and I stand and applaud their contribution to our great game.

I also apologise for not mentioning Hove v Crowborough. It sounds as if it was a good game in which we nearly came back from being a long way behind to snatch victory. Well done boys.

Tuesday 22nd Oct: 16:30(JPN)

Let’s get Jaco Peyper out of the way first. There are two schools of thought here. Firstly it was light hearted banter but secondly it was misguided and an ill-timed gesture by a referee who might have been in line for the final. Having read all the articles and looked at picture I think there is an element of naivety in Peyper’s action but in the mix of things it is pretty harmless stuff. Rather than looking inwardly at the row between coach and players, the appalling action of Vahaamahina, and their pretty ordinary contribution to the game over the last few seasons the French will whinge like spoilt brats over this, maybe to deflect attention. Move on.

England are in Disneyland. You couldn’t make it up but it is true. We think either the Boks or Wales will be staying in our hotel in Tokyo when we arrive there in three days time.

The salary cap investigation has been delayed until after the World Cup. Yawn!

Brexit. Mickey and Minnie Mouse and even Pluto could do a far better job than any of our politicians and by the way when is John Bercow going to be strung up by his gonads for treason?

We had one last drink with our travelling companions yesterday evening before an early night. This morning we waved goodbye to Sean Holley, who has been an absolute star, when we left Fukuoka for Nagasaki. The train journey was fantastic. Not a shinkansen but an express that wound its way through the outskirts of Fukuoka before passing many small towns and villages. After about an hour we hit the coast when the train twisted and turned as it followed the contours of the bays that bordered the track side. Some stunning views to say the least.

This was our final train journey so we took the opportunity to follow the example of the Japanese and had a bento box for lunch. A bento box is basically a packed lunch of rice and fish and other bitesize snacks. Absolutely delicious and great fun. When we arrived at the station we burst out laughing much to the bemusement of the locals. Playing on the tannoy system was The Beatles and Yesterday, this being a tour favourite of the past few weeks we just found so apt and really quite amusing.

The weather is again searingly hot so we are taking a few minutes to unpack, get our bearings before heading back out for the rest of the evening. The Peace Memorial is the No.1 agenda item for tomorrow.

I’ll leave it there and the picture is us with our Sean and Naomi our Japanese “lifeguard”.

Monday 21st Oct: 17:40(JPN)

I am not going to apologise for the lateness of the blog because after all I am on holiday and there are extenuating circumstances too. The journey to Oita Stadium is about 2 hours 30 minutes so by the time you get out of the ground on the bus then stop for a pee break after an hour it is close to 10 pm by the time you are back at the hotel. Based on the fact some of our fantastic touring party were leaving this morning we had to have a drink and of course there was a game to discuss so the blog went out of the window. Just after midnight after one too many celebratory G&Ts is not a good time to write a blog.

Then this morning feeling somewhat fragile it was necessary to get some sea air and a stroll along the beach. After that it was time to catch the bus for the farewell lunch for those of our fantastic party who leave tomorrow which included copious amounts of free drink so it would have been madness to try and put words on a page. Thankfully I am now safely back in the room with a cold soft drink: Sapporo one of the many local beers and can give you my view on yesterday’s games.

It was never in doubt that Wales were going to win. Mrs Bleater had her lucky knickers on so why worry. Worry, there was a palpable air of nervousness around the ground and when the French anthem was belted out with enthusiasm there was that “oh shit” moment when you realised this might not be as easy as everyone had predicted. A fact enhanced when Jonathan Davies was missing from the line-up. The French were by far the better side playing some great rugby. The second try was the French at their best. The atmosphere around the stadium became one of French delight and typical Welsh gloom and doom. Wales missed too many tackles and at times the kicking made no sense, and when it did make sense it was inaccurate.

Never write this Welsh side off however and never expect the French to keep a lid on proceedings. Aaron Wainwright kept us in it and then in the second half came the turning point; the sending off of Sebastien Vahaamahina. It was an outrageous act of foul play which disgraced the game and the French. From then on there was always a chance for a Wales victory. The poor defending of the first half was gone and the more resolute defence of old was back. France with a man down struggled at the scrum and Wales stopped making silly mistakes and started to play what was in front of them. The screw ever so slowly was being turned but that said the French playing a man down were still threatening. Then with nails down to the quick, nerves jangling and heart rate soaring came the Moriarty try. I thought Piper was very eager to cancel it but the ball didn’t go forward and was touched down correctly. Elation, relief, joy and many other emotions before the final whistle and Wales being awarded the “get out of jail free” card.

France deserved to win that game but they didn’t. Wales did and if there was some sort of omen it must be that Wales can only get better and if George North decides to join in the fun at some point then please don’t write the Welsh off yet.

The injury to Josh Navidi looks as if he is on his way home with no further part to play. Jonathan Davies remains doubtful but fingers crossed.

Jaco Peyper might be in a spot of bother. More on this tomorrow.

The South Africans spoilt the party by beating Japan. The Japanese gave it a good go though and that gives hope to Wales. By the miracle of modern technology we watched this game on the coach on the way to the hotel from the ground. Watching was accompanied by plenty of singing, not from yours truly of course, but plenty from those who know how to hit a note correctly. The Boks were just a little too streetwise for the Japanese and they snuffed out their lightening quick attacks, not easily but effectively. Faf de Klerk ran the show again and eventually the big Springbok forwards took control. It was a good game though with plenty of open play and plenty of bruising encounters. Despite going out Japan can feel rightly proud of their contribution. The tournament continues without them but I am certain the enthusiasm of the locals won’t be diminished.

Tomorrow we travel to Nagasaki but very sadly without the group who we have just spent many happy and laughter filled days with. We wish them all well on their journeys home. Mind you one of the party when recommending reading this guff said “you’ll enjoy it but he is right of Ghengis Khan”. I’ll take that as compliment in this lily-livered, bleeding heart, politically correct world that we live in.

Saturday 19th Oct: 23:00(JPN)

I know all you want to hear about is the England game but I am going to do it chronologically. As you know we arrived safely in Fukuoka and are now staying in an enormous Hilton Hotel on the sea front a little way away from downtown.

After posting yesterday’s blog we headed into town for the Venatour Cooch’s tavern. Free drink and free food were laid on in a nice bar/restaurant. Coochy was on fine form and we were able to reacquaint ourselves with Lee Mears. Sean Holley, Lee, and Tom May were the guests doing a Q&A about the tournament thus far and the prospects of both England and Wales. It was good stuff. I took the opportunity to chat to Tom about Sevenoaks who he played for last season. He holds many of the same opinions as us in that there are local clubs who have gone down the paying player route and this is a recipe for disaster at the grassroots level.

Once the free food and drink was finished it was decamp to the paying bar where the “Follow Wales” element basically took over and sang their hearts out for several hours. I was asked if I knew the words to many of the songs and of course I did. I was somewhat put out when I was asked if I could just mime rather than try and sing. Mrs Bleater belted them out with gusto. Sean Holley was choir master or perhaps ring master would be better.

Breakfast beckoned before the early bus to Oita. For us it was the second trip but for many who had only arrived this week, some just on Friday it was all very exciting. We also found ourselves unable to lounge about like rock stars on the coach as the new arrivals filled the vehicle. Our stadium seats were right down the front, a little bit too low down for our taste but with no-one in front we had a great view. We also had the very great pleasure of finally hooking up with Shorty and Faye.

So to the game itself. It was nice to be able to sit and watch fairly impartially. I thought Australia started really well and looked a real threat. England’s defence was excellent and that set the tone for the game. England looked composed for the most part although I still thought they kicked when ball in hand would have been the better option. There was a steely determination about the team which I think has been missing for some time. Though Tom Curry was a good pick for man of the match I thought Ben Youngs played very well as did Sam Underhill. For Australia Kurtley Beale did his best and the Marika Koroibete try was something else. England were mighty impressive and will definitely give the All Blacks a game. It would be churlish to pick fault but Slade was clearly not battle hardened and I am still convinced George Ford is King Eddie’s best option at #10. In summary England were very good and only in the closing stages did the Aussies lose the plot a little.

We got to watch most of the Ireland v All Blacks game on the journey home and whilst Ireland weren’t bad I feel the men in black never really needed to get out of third gear. England v New Zealand is going to be a cracker. We can’t wait.

I love Australia and most of the Aussies I’ve met are great. Tonight dispelled the myth a little as we encountered some seriously sore losers. I can be a pillock but a couple of them overstepped the mark and I was forced into saying something to highlight the point that they lost a game of rugby unlike many Japanese who have lost much more due to the typhoon. Mrs Bleater was quite proud as twenty plus years ago I might have taken a different course of action.

Good luck to the boys who weather permitting will be kicking off against Hove shortly and good luck to Twickenham RFC the club of John a fellow tourist and a top bloke who might have a marble or two missing because he reads this crap.

The big one beckons: Wales v France tomorrow. Wales at full strength and the enticing prospect of facing either Japan or South Africa. 11:00 we depart for the ground for several hours of nail biting.

Friday 18th Oct: 16:00(JPN)

Not long now before the quarter-finals start. Ireland look a strong side on paper but are they up to the task. Will Johnny Sexton fire on all cylinders and can Connor Murray keep his forwards moving forward and service the backs with quick ball. The Irish will miss the bullocking runs of Bundee Aki. I go New Zealand and it could be an easy run to the semis for them.

Michael Cheika has thrown a curve ball into the mix with the selection of Jordan Petaia. The 19 year old is ready according to the abrasive Aussie and states he has no qualms about the ability of the 6ft 3in, 15st 6lbs youngster. I am surprised by the omission of the experienced Bernard Foley and the selection of Christian Lealifano at #10. I would have started with Matt Toomua for whom the English would be of no concern. Kerevi is going to be a threat and watching him against Tuilagi will be like watching two rampaging bison on heat. Kurtley Beale and Reece Hodge will be a threat going forward but will need the ball and this is where I think England have the edge. The English forwards seem fitter and more dynamic than the Aussies. That said the Aussies, unlike England who have had an easy ride, are battle hardened. Too close to call is my view.

For the record I still think King Eddie’s selection is conservative and defensive and this could open the door for a Wallaby win.

What a shame that Uruguay’s World Cup has been tainted after two players were arrested after assaulting a member of staff in a night club. The Japanese are wonderful people so why someone would want to start a fight in a night club beggars belief.

How was last night? Excellent in a word. We stopped off at an Irish pub for a beer and a rerun of the Wales v Uruguay game. Wales were worse than I thought on the day. We then strolled through the narrow lanes of Kyoto to the restaurant we had identified. Restaurant is a loose description as it was basically a small bar with 6 stools in front and three small indoor gas barbecues sat atop the bar counter. We ordered our steak, vegetables and side salad which was substantial and off we went. Cook your vegetables first then piece by piece your steak. Liberal helpings of soy sauce and a nice glass of red wine and there you have it a great meal and great fun.

A gentle stroll back through the lamp lit lanes; a mix of hotels, restaurants, houses and sleazy night clubs where scantily clad ladies do what scantily clad ladies do. We did stop at a convenience store for a couple of tiramisu and a bottle of wine to round the evening off back in our hotel. I have been asked about the wine and I may have misled you the good readers. Wine in bars and hotels is prohibitively expensive as a norm. In the supermarkets it is much more reasonable but most hotels frown on you sneaking wine back to your room so generally we have stuck to beer which is about £6 a pint.

Right now we are on the shinkansen to Fukuoka. Nothing new to report; simply an excellent service where the train crew bow as they enter and leave each carriage. Actually there is one difference: it is raining. I understand Crowborough has been inundated with the stuff whereas here today it is the only second time we have had any rain at all. The forecast for tomorrow is good and even better for Sunday.

This will be the last few days with our touring partners as many go home after the quarters and some like us go their separate ways until the semis. It is a great mix of people. There are several couples like us, two brothers, a single female traveller, four great blokes from Aberdare (my grandmother’s home town) plus Sean Holley and the lovely Naomi our Japanese guide from …………… Oxford. For much of the time we all do our own thing but when we get together it is a good crack and thankfully timekeeping is important to all.

Tonight we meet up with the rest of the Venatour groups and hopefully, whilst he is not with Venatour, one David Shortland and his lovely wife Faye. I am a miserable bugger at the best of time so Mrs Bleater is awfully worried that even this deep into our trip I still haven’t found anything to moan about. Venatour have been thus far excellent. If you are thinking Lions 2021 then think Venatour.

Finally, what separates a tier one nation and a tier two nation?

Hadrian’s Wall

A Scotsman walks into a bar. There was supposed to be a Welshman, an Englishman and an Irishman there too but they were all in Japan.

Thursday 17th Oct: 16:30(JPN)

Let’s do the rugby news first. George Ford is dropped for the match against Australia. Wow! I didn’t see that one coming. I thought the Ford/Farrell axis had worked well and had helped open space up for England’s back three. Henry Slade fills Farrell’s spot alongside Manu Tuilagi. Personally I would have had Tuilagi on the bench with Slade alongside Farrell. In the forwards Mako Vunipola gets the nod ahead of Joe Marler with brother Billy being fit to take the No.8 shirt. Courtney Lawes starts ahead of George Kruis. Again, not what I would have done. Lawes can be a liability so is this a risk? In my opinion this is a safe selection with King Eddie giving himself the option to bring Ford on as the game develops. The bolder option would have been having Ford start. Will the Wallabies interpret this as England being negative and therefore vulnerable?

Sean Cronin is out of the tournament with Rob Herring flown in as cover. If he is thrown straight into action he will face the strongest possible New Zealand side. A side with Beauden Barrett at full-back and Richie Mo’unga at #10. The pack looks awesome. Even with Ireland at their best I can only see one winner here.

There is a great piece in the Organ of Truth about how Japan have included “fast twitch” rock, paper, scissors in their gruelling training regime. Well worth a read.

As the Premiership season approaches we still await the outcome of the investigation into Saracens and the salary cap.

To the touristy stuff. Kyoto was once the capital of Japan before that honour was bestowed on Tokyo. It lies some 300+ kilometres south west of Tokyo just a few kilometres north of Osaka. It is a city rich in culture and whilst the downtown area is very much like the rest of Japan we have visited there are many more heritage sights where you can find “old” Japan. That is narrow lanes filled with homes, and small restaurants and small ryokan where the weary tourist can rest. It is also a city filled with shrines and temples of all persuasion. If you are not careful you can succumb to either shrinitus or templitis or worse both. To be fair the temples and the pagodas and the shrines are something to behold.

Last night we worshipped at an alternative temple: The Hub, that great Japanese pub chain that is a sanctuary offering decent beer and wall to wall rugby coverage. Having feasted at lunch time on tempura prawns with all the usual Japanese trimmings it was going to be a quiet night. In the pub we met a fellow traveller from both our New Zealand 2011 excursion and our Australia 2013 Lions tour. He joined us and as it was happy hour the rest was history. History mainly about the good old Black & Ambers: Newport RFC and all things Newport. The plan to have one then go find a Japanese snack went out of the window. In flew too many beers and a Hub roast beef and mash and a pizza.

Today we have breakfasted well, as always, before heading out. We caught up with Gareth, Coochy to you, about how the tour was going. He hit the nail on the head by saying how Britain could learn so much from the Japanese; courtesy, willingness to please, respect, tolerance, abiding by the rules, and an absolute dedication to cleanliness. Litter, what litter? Another thing that highlights their honesty and decency is the ubiquitous nature of the drinks vending machine. You find them everywhere and not a single one has been vandalised. You simply cannot imagine that in the UK. Within minutes some scroat would have smashed up the machine for the cash before stealing all the drink to sell on for his or her drug money. I prefer the Japanese way.

Tonight the plan is for beef cooked on the stone Japanese style with fresh vegetables and pickles. Of course that will be accompanied by a beer or two as wine is expensive, very expensive.

Wednesday 16th Oct: 18:00(JPN)

We have just arrived at our hotel in Kyoto after a second day in Hiroshima yesterday. The day was spent simply meandering through the streets into the heart of the city where we caught up on modern day Hiroshima and its bright lights. The rivers that run through the city are tree lined and have fascinating sculptures to enjoy along the way (today’s picture). We meandered aimlessly through the mecca to consumerism before ending back at the Peace Memorial Park. It was still as poignant as before but we decided on visiting the rebuilt castle which originally dated back many centuries.

Inevitably you are faced with more gruesome tales of the bomb and its impact. The castle was like many we have visited to date detailing the lives of the shogun and their impact on the regions history. Close by just next to the location of the original Hiroshima baseball stadium is the new Green Arena where the World Volleyball Tournament is currently being held. The “sold out” signs were up sadly.

Having walked miles yet again it was time to catch the tram back to the station and a nice cold glass of Kirin, the best of the Japanese beers thus far. Back to the hotel for some R&R and then out for dinner. Lunch by the way was a soft drink and a bag of peanuts. We opted for okonomiyaki which is a pancake based or omelette based, depending on what side up they serve it, cabbage, bacon and bean sprout filled plate of food. We opted to have the added squid, octopus, prawns and scallop. Once this is all layered in together they slather on a load of delicious thick sweet soy sauce. You sit at the counter and watch them cook before devouring it with gusto because it is truly delicious.

This morning it was the shinkansen to Kyoto. The same brilliant experience as previously described. Once in Kyoto we grabbed a quick lunch before the party was whisked off to the Golden Pavilion Temple. Stunning but for the first time in Japan it felt a little too much like a tourist trap. The ice cream was nice though. Here we have met up with Gareth Chilcott for the first time. We know him from the New Zealand World Cup in 2011.

What about the rugby news. World Rugby are thinking about sanctioning Scotland for the fuss they kicked up during the typhoon. Let it go I say. The Scots have gone home with their tail between their legs and having seen more of the devastation on TV it seems rather churlish to be taking action now.

All the teams are talking up their chances.

Bundee Aki is out of the tournament after being hit with a three match ban.

My good friend Paddy O’fez has been in touch asking what odds on England v Wales in the final. Very long I suggest. I have gone for New Zealand v South Africa with England v Wales as the 3rd/4th play-off.

I agree with him that the most intriguing is the Japan v South Africa match. Who knows? I would love to be proven wrong…….. again!!!

Do the Japanese supporters clean the stadium post-match? Yes and no. The Japanese are manic about rubbish and you see them pondering over which recycling bin to use. They tend to leave nothing behind but sadly those of other countries are not so disciplined. There are an army of cleaners on hand at each game so rest assured within a short space of the time the stadiums are spotless.

It has been suggested Japan joins the 6 Nations. The geography simply won’t work in my mind.

Finally the discipline of Japan. It was time for a change of crew on the local train out of Hiroshima. The guy gets out of the cab in his uniform which includes cap and white gloves. He stands directly opposite his replacement similarly attired and they salute each other. Then in a perfectly synchronised way check their paperwork, then check their watches and say “hi” meaning yes, then salute again before swapping over. That is Japan for you. Can you imagine the uproar if Mick Loadsa cash got involved over here?

Tuesday 15th Oct: 11:00(JPN)

“Never underestimate man’s ability to reap destruction upon itself.
Never underestimate man’s ability to recover from devastation and adversity.
That is Hiroshima”
Bleater: October 2019

Yesterday we left Fukuoka for the 1 hour 15 minute train journey to Hiroshima. The shinkansen continues to amaze as you speed effortlessly through the Japanese towns and villages that border the route. The ubiquitous mountains ever present in the distance. Our hotel overlooks the station so a short walk to dump the bags then a short tram ride to the Peace Memorial Park.

I defy anyone not to be moved by the remains of the Hiroshima Exhibition Hall that stands as a permanent reminder of the terrible events of August 6th 1945. As you wander around the gardens you come across the monument to the dead, the monument to the children who perished and poignant and moving monument to those who tragically lost their lives as a consequence of the bomb sometime after 6th August. The museum is a touching tribute to all affected by the events of that day in history and as you wander through the halls of exhibits it is very difficult to hold back your emotions.

Hiroshima today is a vibrant city with the usual plethora of garish neon selling you everything from Coca Cola to toilet seats. Yes Mr Toto is big out here in Japan. As we have come to expect the central train station is also the location for your very impressive underground shopping mall and a great choice of restaurants. Last night we went for fish; a grilled saury. Basically an enormous sardine like fish complete with some its guts. Once you got passed a) having to do a little bit of gutting and b) managing a whole fish with just chopsticks you are away. The fish was excellent, the accompaniments were excellent, the beer was fine and the experience was great. Having not slept well the night before we opted for a 7Eleven dessert and a bottle of red and back to the room for a quiet night watching a rerun of Wales v Fiji. That Jonathan Davies off load is something else.

The papers are full of the pre-quarters nonsense such as King Eddie winding up Cheika, the Australian players having a go at the press for asking stupid questions and how you can’t write the Irish off.

We are off for some more gentle sightseeing but I will leave you with two things to mull over.

In the entrance to the museum is a clock showing the exact time the bomb was dropped; 08:15. Underneath are two counters showing firstly the amount of days passed since the bomb was dropped: c. 27367, and the number of days since the last atomic weapons test: JUST 244.

Finally, in the park is a flame that burns brightly. Not one of remembrance but one of hope. Hope that when the world is free of atomic weapons the flame can be extinguished. I fear in a world of lunatics such as Trump, Putin, Jong-Un, Johnson, Li, Netanyahu et al that day might never arrive.

“6th August 1945 at 08:15 the world changed for ever.”

Monday 14th Oct: 16:00(JPN)

I replied to an email from Bill by saying “if the Japan v Scotland game goes ahead it will be a bigger miracle than the moon landings”. So alongside my scrambled egg and smoked salmon I’ve yet again had to eat my words.

Before we get into the rugby let me add my condolences to those who have tragically lost their lives, have lost family and those who are suffering through the devastation of the typhoon. Here in Fukuoka yesterday you would not have known there was a typhoon. The sky was bereft of cloud and the sun was beating down on the calmest of calm days.

Having wandered for over 14km on Saturday including around the wonderful Ohori Park it was just a gentle stroll yesterday before getting the coach to the game. Fukuoka is a pleasant city with a myriad of fine temples and shrines and of course plenty of places to worship at the altar of consumerism. The park was enormous and included an athletics stadium, a baseball pitch where the locals were playing and a full size soccer pitch, and that ignores the fact there is a very large ornamental lake and the ruins of Fukuoka castle within its boundaries.

On Saturday night we watched Ireland play very, very well in their win over Samoa. To keep Samoa scoreless when down to 14 men was impressive. The sending off was the right, albeit a tough call. After the game we left the hotel bar for a local pub where we enjoyed one too many beers with some old and new friends.

So to yesterday and being whisked off to the game on the coach. The ground was awash with red shirts but throughout the atmosphere was a little flat. Wales had qualified and I think many like me were thinking about the victims of the typhoon rather than the game. Wales were disjointed and sloppy. Uruguay played well in defence and had some good moments in attack. In the end superior fitness told but Wales are going to have to raise their game if they are to extend their campaign beyond the match up with France. It must be said that the organisation around the matches has been exemplary.

Post match and back to the coach where we watched the Japan v Scotland game. Well done to all to enable that to happen. It was a surreal experience watching live sport on a fantastically clear TV screen being whilst being whisked back to our hotel. What a game it was too. The Japanese came out of the blocks like terriers motivated by the huge crowd and I am sure wanting to send a message to their fellow countrymen who are suffering right now. The speed of passing was great and the creation of space allowed them to make ground whenever in possession. Scotland were reeling. The men in blue came storming back and for a while an amazing turnaround was on the cards. A draw was looming but that was not going to be enough then like Samurai of days of yore the Japanese defended as if their very lives depended on it. Then in a flash there it was, game over and another glorious day in the history of Japanese rugby. The magnitude of the result for the morale of the country can’t be overestimated as the result dominates the front pages of the newspapers.

A word of thanks for our coach driver. He managed to time the comfort break exactly on half time and then agreed to slow down and go the long way back to the hotel so we could watch the game to its conclusion.

We now have our quarter-finals as predicted by yours truly in the Venatour sweep 10 days ago.

New Zealand v Ireland - Ireland play like they did against Samoa and a shock could be on the cards

Japan v South Africa - never say never but I think the Boks will edge this one but only just.

England v Australia - head says England all day long but deep in the background there is a nagging feeling the Wallabies could surprise us all

Wales v France - 2011 keeps coming to mind. Woeful France sneak the win against 14 man Wales. Is history about to repeat itself? Wales have to play better. If they do then a Welsh win is definitely possible

Today we leave Fukuoka for Hiroshima and we are really excited by that.

Saturday 12th Oct: 16:00(JPN)

As I write the typhoon is approaching Japan and the TV is full of very clear warnings about the significant risk to live and damage to property. They are using the phrase “unprecedented disaster”. Based on this the issues around the World Cup are irrelevant. If you accept the message from the Government and the metrological service I personally fear the worst.

We have been out this morning and have experienced some significant gusts of wind and we are a long way from the typhoon and will miss the worse of it. This has enhanced our fear for those in the firing line. Right now the TV is showing Hakone where we were just a week ago and the weather looks horrendous.

Yesterday there was no hint of what was coming. The weather was dry, bright and hot. The journey down the mountain was as beautiful as it was going up. Inevitably there was the backdrop of the mountains and the lovely villages and a new sight: the occasional orange grove. One of the highlights of the trip was the Sean Holley bingo. It was a laugh. As we got closer to Fukuoka so the terrain changed and we realised we were heading back into a big city. Fukuoka is a big port so the number of lorries was greatly increased from anything we have seen thus far. We also noticed a heavy concentration of military vehicles travelling in convoy.

Fukuoka is the closest big city to Korea and China so is a crucial port of entry and exit for goods. The city seems not as busy as others but has the usual plethora of shopping malls, and like the other cities much of it is underground. The sheer scale of these underground malls is mind boggling. I don’t exaggerate when I say the tunnel complexes can add up to miles of shops and restaurants. With regard to the restaurants they tend to have their own dedicated area and are generally small family owned affairs where you can get a great meal for a very reasonable price. We’ve just had Japanese stir fried pork with ginger, accompanied by a soup (miso), rice and pickles. Oishi desu.

Last night we explored some of the city and discovered the Irish team hotel and realised the Irish have travelled to Japan in force. Tonight they play Samoa in the Fukuoka Stadium. A game that might not be as easy as many would think. The Aussies found Georgia a tough opposition last night. It was a combination of Australia failing to take their chances and Georgia offering up a real stiff test. Tomorrow’s game between Wales and Uruguay will go ahead but I fear Scotland’s won’t, especially after seeing what is happening now and the state of the pitch earlier even before the worst of the weather has arrived. The cancellations and the uncertainty about the Scotland game has taken away some, if not quite a bit of my enthusiasm for the tournament.

Before I go you know about Toto so let me tell you about the yellow brick road. Every pavement on every street or road of significance as a yellow ribbed ribbon of bricks to guide the visually impaired down the pavement. Quite impressive really. Just waiting to see Dorothy as we met the scarecrow in the lift this morning.

I am not going to go vegetarian but I did have a twinge of conscience when we saw the whale meat stand in the local market. Whales are majestic and endangered creatures hence the thought. Cows, sheep, pigs, chickens et al aren’t so chicken with noodles later.

By the way I hope you’ve all changed your weekly schedules as Saturday now follows Sunday as per yesterday’s missive.

Good luck to the boys in cup later today.

Finally I have succumbed to temptation hence the photo of yesterday’s lunch!!!

Friday 11th Oct: 10:15(JPN)

The typhoon is dominating the news here in Japan. It is a big one so it comes as no surprise there is much concern about the impact. More on this in a moment.

Today we move from Aso to Fukuoka, the biggest city of the most southerly of Japan’s “big” islands: Kyushu. Aso is high in the mountains set in a caldera of 80 miles in circumference formed by five volcanoes with Mount Nakadake still emitting sulphurous gases. We are about 50kms as the crow flies from Oita but a lot further down the steep and winding roads, descending from approximately 1350m high to seas level. Our journey to Fukuoka will take us west and away from the typhoon and take about two hours on the coach. It is a shame to leave as the hotel has been the closest in style to a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. Whilst the food hasn’t been Japanese what we’ve had has been absolutely “oishi” or delicious. That said it is very isolated and it will be good to get back into the throng of Japanese life.

Back to the typhoon, the biggest for 26 years. The Organ of Truth’s Martin Samuel has been quite outspoken about the awarding of the World Cup to Japan and playing it at this time of year. Typhoons are GUARANTEED to hit Japan in September and October and even as early as May as sure as Saturday follows Sunday. Samuel writes that the tournament after its amazing opening gambit is about to descend into farce and with everything in life that is what people will remember. He is correct in saying the organisers were aware of the risks but it does seem as if the contingencies were more imaginary than real and there has been too much reliance on “shoganai” meaning it can’t be helped. Well it can be and it should have been. Samuel argues that the decision to go to Japan was driven by commercial need and objectives rather than the good of the game in the long term. I personally think the choice of Japan was inspired but based on the here and now delaying it until the calmer, cooler conditions of November might have been prudent. Yes, the impact on the Northern Hemisphere season would have been enormous but this is a global showcase for the game so they should have been willing to suck up the inconvenience.

I have every sympathy with the Scots and the fact they could fly home without having had the chance to prove themselves. The Japan v Scotland game became the hottest ticket in town some weeks ago and for it not to take place would be a travesty. I think Scotland would have lost and would have been flying home anyway but being denied the opportunity to prove otherwise and for Japan not to reach the quarter-final on merit is wrong.

Even the England v France game had something riding on it. We will never know now whether France could have risen to the occasion and finished top dog in their pool. Likewise the Italians who were never going to beat New Zealand have been denied the opportunity to say goodbye to Italian legend Sergio Parisse, alongside Leonardo Ghiraldini and Alessandro Zanni who have 363 caps between them, and who knows Italy could have won. Parisse makes a slightly barbed but very good comment saying that if there was something riding on it for the All Blacks then the organisers would have bent over backwards to get the game on.

Then there are the fans. We as yet have not been affected and for us Japan was the priority and the rugby was the added value. For many, many others who have flown out for just a few games and have spent thousands in the process and now will only be able to enjoy the emergency shelter of the hotels banqueting halls or the local gymnasium. That is sad.

Amongst all this we cannot lose sight of the simple truth that millions of locals are in the firing line. Their homes, their livelihoods, and their very lives are at risk. Yes rugby is important to us who love the game so much but let us keep things in perspective; it is only a game. Life and the very fabric of life is way more important so over the next few days don’t mourn the loss of a couple of games of rugby spare your thoughts for those who are in danger.

Boris is battling to save Brexit. Not sure “save” is the right word but I along with pretty much all of my fellow travellers regardless of how they voted just want it sorted one way or another.

Extinction Rebellion continue to cause chaos. I find it very hypocritical when I see protesters who have spent hundreds of pounds to buy fabric to make ridiculous costumes to look like blood, costumes that have no long term value so basically the money that they could have donated to worthwhile charities is going down the drain. There is the guy who delayed a flight to Dublin causing it to refuel thus wasting a precious resource. Of course there are vehicles across London that are now idling away because they are stuck in traffic jams, and no of the protesters seem to give a damn for those office workers and shop workers and key public service providers who are severely inconvenienced whilst those at the top of the salary scale, the ones who don’t give a damn are totally unaffected. I have flown thousands of miles to be in Japan so it would be hypocritical of me to offer any support to XR but I do believe climate change is a BIG issue, the typhoon is an example. Protest isn’t the answer. In fact I feel it is counterproductive. We shouldn’t have to stop doing what we love but we do need to do it in a more environmentally friendly way. That is the last on that subject except to say my only negative of Japan is their apparent obsession and abundance of single use plastic.

Thursday 10th Oct: 10:30(JPN)

Only one place to start and that is at the very impressive Oita Stadium. Not sure about the pitch but the stadium itself is excellent. Great seats again from which to watch a nail biter of a game if you are Welsh, a disappointing outcome if you are Fijian and a wonderful spectacle for the neutral. Boy oh boy the Fijians started well against a Welsh side which looked as if the long rest had done more harm than good. They moved the ball with pace and their support lines were excellent. After ten minutes the massed ranks of the Welsh were falling silent as that proverbial banana skin loomed large.

Wales are resilient and that has been a strength under Warren Gatland. They defended for the most part brilliantly and took their chances well. The game swung one way then another. The cards came out of Jerome Garces pocket on a regular basis and the neutrals in the crowd were very much behind the Fijians. The Kiwis and the Aussies in particular were cheering on the players who got away from their clutches and who fought like demons for their homeland rather than the All Blacks or Wallabies cause.

Wales led at the break but that seemed more fortuitous than through skill and the murmurings of doom were prevalent around the serried ranks of the Welsh. The second half started much the same as the first with Wales on the back foot thanks to excellent Fijian work. When Wales did get the ball the ferocious Fijian defence hit them back as if they were rag dolls. In the end Wales’ class and superior fitness told as Liam Williams ploughed over for the bonus point try. Another massive Welsh sigh of relief but at what cost.

Dan Biggar hit the ground like a sack of spuds after being clattered by teammate Williams. Jonathan Davies limping off was not a great sight; his sublime offload to Josh Adams for the try was a thing of beauty though. Josh Adams limping off with a dead leg was not a great either nor was his pleading to the bench to say he was struggling, nor was the fact his pleading was ignored.

As we wake up this morning the bottom line says Wales won 29-17 with a try bonus point and they have secured a quarter final berth. With Uruguay to come they should top the pool thus avoiding England.

Scotland did what they needed to but Typhoon Hagibis could scupper their bid for the quarters. They thumped Russia making the encounter with Japan even more tasty (oishi in Japanese). Many fear it could become Typhoon Haggis with it sending Scotland home full of ire as they miss out because of the weather. We’ll know at 12 noon Tokyo time.

I am reading a piece that says England’s game with France is already cancelled. If you have seen the satellite images of the size of Hagibis then you can understand why that decision has been taken. Both sides are through so only placing to be played for. Despite the conspiracy theories there is no way an international side would run out onto the pitch to lose and if you are to be crowned World Champions you need to beat the best. France however might be the happier as they will certainly play Wales. England will be unhappy not because of the tougher route to the final but they have not been tested yet and an extended break, as we saw with Wales, is not necessarily a good thing.

By the way there is still time for this super storm to change course but right now we will be safe and sound in Fukuoka. Well away from the eye.

Where we are staying is very isolated so before jumping on the coach to the game we strolled around the area and into the forest. The sun shone brightly and hot too so the shade of the pines and other foliage was most welcome. The isolation was wonderful in that the only sounds were the babbling brook we walked alongside, the chirping of the birds, the occasional rustling of an animal in the undergrowth. There was absolutely no other discernible sound. The journey to the ground was great as we rode the slalom down out of the mountains to the coast. The mountains and villages in the mountain passes were beautiful. The variations in the greens covering the mountains as far as the eye could see were wonderful. The roads were smooth and pot hole free and everywhere you looked was pristine. I am finding it difficult to describe but rest assured it was breath-taking. As you got closer to the city so things changed and you could be anywhere in the world I guess.

After the game the journey home passed quickly with a good old Welsh singsong with the new arrivals from Aberdare and Sean Holley leading the way.

Before I go a couple of things. I had my homework marked yesterday and I have been advised I should have used “bathe” and not “bath” when describing the onsen. Following on from this my delightful daughter decided to send me a picture of a hippo in a pool to depict my experience. Dear daughter you are now out of the will not that there will be anything left after we get back from The Lions tour to South Africa in 2021!!!

Finally a word on those pathetic anarchists who masquerade as eco-warriors. Climate change IS an issue but doing what they are doing is harming the cause and not helping it. Do they expect people to go back to the dark ages and live in caves? No, especially as most of the protesters live in cosy little houses in leafy suburbs or out in the countryside. Do they want to make millions of people who rely on the aviation and tourist industries redundant? Do they want foreign travel to once again become the preserve of the rich? Do they want small nations who rely solely on tourism to go back to an existence where their lives are one of destitution? If they are so concerned I would ensure each and every protester had their passport and driving licence cancelled as they clearly don’t need them and anyone who is there and on benefits has them stopped. They can go back and live like stig of the dump which I anticipate is the outcome they desire.

Wednesday 9th Oct: 11:00(JPN)

After a long wait it is match day again. Wales v Fiji in Oita awaits. We’ll be lunching early before a 15:00 departure for the ground. There is an air of uncertainty around the camp this morning with the dreaded “banana skin” looming large. Our tour party has grown by seven people this morning as those coming out for the last two pool games and two quarter finals have arrived. They couldn’t have arrived on a more idyllic morning or to a more idyllic location. More on this in a moment.

I see that South Africa were ruthless in beating 14 man Canada last night. Yet again a shame that a player has seen red but all too often we see players recklessly charging into rucks clattering opponents with their shoulders. Josh Larsen was the guilty party yesterday. According to the papers the way the Bokke played last night has enhanced their World Cup credentials as possible winners.

The French are revolting again! In echoes of 2011 the French players have fallen out with coach Jacques Brunel and have threatened to refuse to play. I can’t see that actually happening but the role of Brunel is now one of spectator I think as the players take charge of their own destiny. This has all come about because Brunel dropped the captain. All very French but it might just mean we get a proper test against England. A proper test if Typhoon Higibis doesn’t have a say in matters. The course of the typhoon has changed and it is now heading on a more northerly track with Tokyo and Yokohama right in the firing line. Selfishly we might have dodged it as we are now much further south west.

Scotland slip up today and it is sayonara. The game against Japan then becomes irrelevant and it is back home with tails between legs.

Limited access to the news today so let me tell you about yesterday. We said goodbye to Okayama and headed south west on the bullet train. As with previous journeys it was incredibly comfortable and very, very fast. As you stare out of the window the different houses were amazing and in their own way so too were the apartment blocks often looking like one multi storey clothes line. The ever present back drop of the tree covered mountains was there for all to see as were the factories, including the enormous TOTO factory. As we left the city so the density of housing changed and you saw a greater number of bigger plots with larger houses with their gleaming glazed coloured tile rooves and their highly decorated gable ends. No need for a lawn mower as even the largest of houses used their land for growing crops of all shapes and sizes.

Then came a new experience as we switched trains to the local express, the Sonic Express. Less luxurious, less quick but still fast. The train took as through some of the urban areas rather than skirting them. We were often no more than 10 metres from someone’s front door. We passed a huge oil refinery in the middle of which was the bizarrely named Rene Lalique Hotel. Lalique and the refinery simply didn’t go together. The urbanisation changed to farming, mainly rice and the mountains became even more rugged as we found ourselves between them and the coast. Simply magnificent. When we arrived in the seaside spa town of Beppu the station was covered in paintings done by the local school children welcoming Wales to their town. Nice touch.

The last leg of the journey was by coach as wound our way up high into the mountains to our mountain top resort. The views down the valleys were spectacular as were the gorges and the mountains themselves. It was a switchback of a ride but thoroughly enjoyable. Our hotel is much more authentically Japanese. Gone is the marble foyer and bright lights. In comes the cherry wood beams and subdued lighting. The bedroom is a small living space where you must remove your shoes before entering with too low beds on a small mezzanine floor. It is all dark wood here and very rustic. Just superb. Last night the tour party were treated to a gorgeous five course meal. Not very Japanese sadly but simply delicious.

After a good night’s sleep we awoke early so decided on the onsen before breakfast. This is the thermal hot spring. Men and women are segregated and you bath naked. You shower thoroughly first before entering the hot spring and then you just simply soak away all your troubles and woes in the delightfully hot water. What a way to start a match day.

Tuesday 8th Oct: 10:30(JPN)

Where to start? With Wales I guess. Warren Gatland has made two changes to the starting line-up and a number to the bench. Out completely goes Justin Tipuric for a very well deserved rest and onto the bench goes Aaron Wainwright. In come James Davies and Ross Moriarty. Dan Biggar is fit and starts. Gatland has been forced into selecting a very strong team as Fiji have always been the banana skin on Wales’ mind. We are off to Aso today, and no that isn’t a Japanese description of Bleater.

Tomas Lavanini has been given a four week ban meaning he will miss Argentina’s final World Cup game and three matches when he arrives at Leicester Tigers later this month. The first of a flood of overseas players so all you England fans better make the most of this World Cup because by the time the next one comes around there will be no English players in the Premiership.

It looks increasingly likely that Billy Vunipola has sustained a more serious ankle injury than expected. We’ll know in the next few days but he is definitely not going to appear against France.

Gregor Townsend has been whingeing about the decisions made by Jaco Peyper in the Japan vs Samoa encounter. Dear Gregor you are top bloke. Please don’t come down to the levels of Cheika by whingeing about something you can’t change. You need to focus on beating Russia and gearing up for Japan. Yours Bleater.

A typhoon, in fact a super typhoon is heading towards Japan right now and on the weekend Ireland v Samoa and Wales v Uruguay could be in the firing line. If it is as bad as expected and Ireland’s fixture is lost to the weather they could be going home. Wow, that would be a nightmare. Less concerning is the cancellation of Wales game if they do what is needed tomorrow. Yes by default Mrs Bleater and I could be in the firing line too but our travel company assure us they have contingency plans so NO NEED to worry.

By the way in yesterday’s blog I said japan v Scotland was after the wales v Fiji match. Obviously I meant the Wales v Uruguay match.

For the touristy bit I am going to start at the end of yesterday when we experienced Shabu, Shabu. It is a style of “at the table” cooking which was brilliant. Basically you get a bowl of broth in front of you to which you add vegetables and herbs and spices of your choice. When the whole thing is boiling away you submerge thinly slices of amazing meat into the liquid until it is cooked, about 20 seconds, then you dip in different types of soy sauces. It tastes sensational and is so much fun. We did it with our Japanese tour guide which added to the authenticity and fun.

Earlier in the day we visited the Korakuen Gardens in the city of Okayama which were stunning. A traditionally laid out Japanese garden with lakes and ponds and tea houses and a tea plantation and, and, and. The weather was beautiful which made it so much more impactful. The lake was filled with coy the size of Atlantic cod and the number of young couples recently married having their photo taken in traditional Japanese dress added to the joy of the visit. The ice cream was amazing too.

Whilst at the gardens we bumped into Alistair the founder and CEO of Venatour. Mrs Bleater accosted him saying how he was to blame for her concern about yours truly. “I’m worried because he hasn’t had anything to moan about and we have been here for nearly two and half weeks. That’s all your fault” she said. It’s true, so far everything Venatour has arranged for us and the other people in the party, who are great fun, has been excellent.

Next stop it was over the river to Okayama Castle. Quite imposing but not as good as Osaka or Nagoya. Still interesting though and just for my good friend Paddy that is today’s photo. Then a leisurely stroll by way of a café for a beer and sandwich before an hour or two R&R in our hotel.

Pretty much after I post this missive we head to Aso where hopefully we’ll be reunited with our luggage and tomorrow’s Wales v Fiji game in Oita.

What do I know about fashion? Zero! I even make my good friend Simon R look suave and sophisticated. However some of the Japanese fashion seems bizarre in the extreme. No colour coordination and lots of strange combinations of delicate dresses and blouses and workmen’s boots. You do marvel when you see the ladies in their kimonos though. They look lovely.

Finally don’t forget Scrum V Wednesday night 9pm BBC 2 Wales (iPlayer) and please keep the messages coming.

Monday 7th Oct: 11:00(JPN)

Let’s start with the rugby. New Zealand eventually strolled past Namibia by a lot to not very many. Eleven tries indicates the ease with which they won, or does it? We should applaud Namibia for their dogged determination in the first half and against the odds continuing to battle until the final whistle. The All Blacks only got going after Steve Hansen allegedly threw a strop at half time. New Zealand are the best team in the world and when you look at the strength of yesterday’s “second string” outfit you have to make them favourites to lift the cup for a third consecutive time. The return of Brodie Retallick will send shivers through the spines of all future opponents in the tournament.

So to France and their narrow win over Tonga. We didn’t get to see this one (more on this in a moment) so I am relying on the papers and emails for an understanding of how it went. Thanks Bill for the photo. I am led to believe the picture showing the back end of a racehorse to reflect France’s first half and the front being a child’s drawing of a donkey the second half sums it up nicely. It sounds as if France were majestically fluid in that first 40 minutes going out to a comfortable lead. Apparently some of the play leading to scores was sublime. Then came the second half with Les Bleus transformed into overworked Weston-Supermare donkies they let Tonga back into the game. It was only another last gasp score that kept France ahead thus avoiding a humiliating defeat.

From what I have read King Eddie will shuffle the deck when England play France but beware France have always got a magically 80 minutes in them. What about a conspiracy theory…………. Do you think King Eddie would prefer to come second in the group and face Wales in the quarters in the hope of avoiding New Zealand in the semis? Food for thought me thinks!

The South Africa camp is in turmoil. It is possible Eben Etzebeth may have to return home to face allegations of assault and racial abuse following a fracas at a beach resort in South Africa. Rassie Erasmus is also having to defend his squad and play down allegations of racial abuse. From the pictures I have seen the evidence is not good as a group of white South African players seem to exclude Makazole Mapimpi from a team celebration.

There is a good piece in the papers about how World Rugby and the Japanese organisers have been short sighted by not showing games preceding or post the actual match in the stadium. Thousands of fans at the England v Argentina match were denied the opportunity to watch the historic clash between Japan and Samoa. We will miss the crucial Japan v Scotland clash as it follows immediately after Wales v Fiji. Two extra hours in the stadium should not be a problem with history on the horizon.

This World Cup has been brilliant so far but the TV coverage has been poor. Some games are on mainstream TV but most are only shown on pay-per-view TV. This means finding a bar which is hard enough, but to find a bar showing games becomes a real treasure hunt. I fear that many, many millions of Japanese will miss most of the games thus diminishing the possibility of a legacy in a country that loves their sport, baseball and soccer.

I see BOTH Italian props have received three week bans. Not enough but I am pleased and a little bit smug that both have been punished. I called that at the time.

Today’s rugby question is: when will Michael Cheika stop whingeing? A. tomorrow, B. when February 30th comes around, C. when humans live on Mars.

Now for the touristy bit. Yesterday we left Osaka for Okayama. Our third trip on the Shinkansen. The train was brilliant with seats like armchairs and the smoothest of rides despite the speed of the train. The view from the window was fascinating as we passed through a forest of high rise apartments to more sedate low level living to industrial areas. The houses were fascinating and once in a while you’d catch a glimpse of a pagoda standing tall amongst the houses. The back drop of the tree covered granite mountains was impressive as were the long tunnels speeding us through the mountains. Yet again there was a patchwork of small holdings growing a variety of crops to break up the urban throng.

Okayama is a contrast to Osaka. Gone is the madness of the crowded streets and the hum of the traffic and the sense of constant motion. Here is a calmness, an absence of crowds, an almost deserted feel to the place on a Sunday afternoon. The seven storey shopping mall was something else; three floors of restaurants, and very good restaurants too, with the other floors allowing the locals to pray to the god of consumerism. We had a great meal of seafood with rice cooked in a tomato and cream sauce.

Today we are off to the explore the gardens and yet another castle.

Sunday 6th Oct: 12:00 (JPN)

Oh what a night as the song goes but more on this later. Firstly I eagerly await The Bards match report after an excellent home win over Beccehamians. This is a great result that puts us into second spot behind unbeaten Haywards Heath. There was a very small part of me sad to have missed the Past Players Lunch but being here in Japan is compensation. No! Being in Japan is BRILLIANT.

Yesterday we went to the Tempozan Harbour Village, the home of Osaka aquarium. That wasn’t the attraction for us, the indoor food court was. Alley after alleyway of artisanal food places. Street food by any other name set in a traditional Japanese setting. After that we went to Dotonbori which is the centre of Osaka’s nightlife. Let me tell you it was buzzing by day too. Bar, restaurant, bar, seedy club, restaurant, bar, seedy club and on and on. We had intended to go back last night but events and the G&Ts overtook us.

A quick pit stop at the hotel and then to the pub for the second half of Australia v Uruguay. A fairly comfortable win for the Wallabies without being that good. The biggest cheer in that one came when Uruguay went over at the death.

Then it was England vs Argentina. Make or break for both sides. Argentina started brightly but then came the red card. Owen Farrell is, in m