Former England lock Ben Kay looks ahead at what to expect at next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan
Ben Kay gearing up for Rugby World Cup 2019
“Northampton!” Ben Kay replies quick as a flash when asked where he’s experienced the biggest culture shock. Many a Leicester man would no doubt deliver a similar quip if asked. Still, the clash of cultures in the Midlands is nothing compared to what Yuriko Kotani underwent recently.
The Japanese comedian was given an introduction to rugby by former England lock Kay while she gave him an insight into what to expect at next year’s Rugby World Cup in her country – the pair brought together by Japan 2019’s official hospitality global sales agent STH Live.
Kotani got hoisted in a lineout and packed down in a scrum, her shouts revealing how surprising she found the whole experience, and Kay tried his hand at making sushi (it’s fair to say he won’t be employed by a Japanese restaurant any time soon).
You can watch the goings-on during the cultural exchange here…
Kay, now a TV commentator, recognises that a Rugby World Cup in Japan will be a new adventure for players and fans alike, but he believes the rugby community should embrace that rather than shy away from it.
“You maybe get a slightly different culture in South Africa or elsewhere but this is somewhere totally new for rugby,” says Kay. “There’s an element of the unknown but that makes it extremely exciting.
“We all know the reputation Japan has for making sure everything runs to clockwork and what we’re expecting is a really well run tournament. There’s an excitement about exploring a country a lot of people wouldn’t go to for any other reason.”
Kay played in two Rugby World Cups, packing down in the second row alongside Martin Johnson when England lifted the trophy in 2003 and being part of the side that lost to South Africa in the final four years later. He knows supporters make the tournament and would encourage players not to hide themselves in hotel rooms.
“In my first World Cup I realised halfway through that I was locking myself away too much so I made a decision to go out more,” he recalls. “Any player should immerse themselves and take the opportunity. There’s massive pressure but that excitement… you can feed off the fans there.
“These guys have given up their life savings to come and watch this. They have travelled to the other side of the world and made that commitment, so you almost feel like you’re in it together.
“I remember being blown away for the semi-final (against France in 2003) in Australia because when we ran out it was like playing in Twickenham – the whole stadium was white. That was a special moment and you knew the support was there.”
What about on the field – what does he expect to see at Japan 2019? “New Zealand are without a doubt the favourites, even more so than the last tournament at the moment. But they’ve been favourites for a number of Rugby World Cups and the pressure is different at a World Cup.
“We’re expecting to see the usual suspects in the quarter-finals, but we might see one big upset and one of the best teams go out. There’s a lot of talent in a lot of teams and the whole thing about a World Cup is that one nation with a bit of confidence… Maybe Japan will shock everyone given national pride.”
A year ago England were one of the teams being tipped to lift the Webb Ellis Cup on 2 November 2019, but a poor run of form means their title credentials are now being questioned. Kay thinks Eddie Jones’s side just need to get their belief back.
“It’s about rediscovering confidence,” Kay says. “They were bulletproof for a while but it’s almost the opposite at the moment. It’s finding a way of getting that confidence back. In November they have to put a marker down against the southern hemisphere teams.”
No team is guaranteed a place in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals, let alone the final itself, but you can book your seat at what are sure to be huge occasions in Japan. Demand for RWC 2019 hospitality is high, with the Webb Ellis Suite and Webb Ellis Pavilion packages already sold out for the semi-finals and final in Yokohama. They do still have Gold and Diamond Dinner availability, though, so you can watch the climax of Rugby World Cup 2019 in style.
You need to be quick to book your place – click here, call 0208 003 1708 or email email@example.com for all the details.
“TV coverage has definitely improved but there’s nothing quite like being in the stadium, there’s still something really special about being there,” says Kay. “In hospitality you get the best available tickets and what adds to it is that everything you experience is building to the game, so by the time kick-off comes expectation is huge.
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“There are lots of people just as excited as you; you have a fantastic meal and plenty of drinks; former players come in and give you an insight into what to look out for in the game and what the experience is like as a player. It’s a clever way to do it.”
So be smart and book your place at the Rugby World Cup 2019 final with STH Live.