Guaranteed as Kobe beef: the Munster-heavy Irish pack will shed bucket loads of lean meat at the Misaki Stadium.
Ex-pats chewing tenderloin outdoors every evening murmur about a summer that refuses to fade. About global warming, for which Japan must take plenty of responsibility what with a plastic bag doled out with every purchase, no matter how small, for each of its 126.8 million inhabitants. That must have slipped past the Kyoto Protocols.
Media men stranded on Shutter Island – its inevitable nickname after Japan’s historic victory at the Ecopa – have began to look harder at each and every baseball cap strolling past. The Telegraph found and interviewed Thomas Vermaelen.
One nondescript high-rise is home to most of the Vissel Kobe (soccer), Steelers (rugby) and Orix Buffaloes (baseball) foreign stars. Dan Carter is barely noticed biking around this man-made rectangle.
Really, Rokko Island is a treasure trove of unseen pleasures, like local resident Andrés Iniesta’s wine in the tiny Italian cafe, coupled with Sade’s smooth tones emanating from the speaker late into the night (What’s Another Year by Johnny Logan just came on). It’s a perfect, air-conditioned alcove for a pudgy Irish reporter unable to cope with 10pm humidity in the Higashinada ward.
Pitchers and holding midfielders in the twilight of their innings linger outside with their kids playing in the (man-made) pond. It’s like a fairytale.
How’s Storm Lorenzo blowing along?
There were rain drops in Osaka this afternoon. Two distinct plops from above. Perhaps it was someone’s sweat sliding off the overpass.
Everything curious is indoors and soaring upwards in Japan. Each return to the hotel room demands a cold shower. To destickify. Press rooms at stadiums are glacial but it is inhumanely hot under the Misaki dome.
“Even Japanese nationals are feeling it,” said Steelers head coach Dave Dillon. “Particularly for this time of year. Thirty-five degrees at six o’clock at night. Samoa were really physical against Scotland the other night but the points came in the last 12 minutes because the Samoan boys were out on their feet.”
This is pre-planned torture on the lungs.
“It is,” agreed Dillon.
Ireland are hidden away in their towering, salubrious Sheraton. Not too many of them are interested in venturing into Kobe or Osaka – Rokko is roughly the halfway point – these past few days. Embalmed by mental anguish. Something similar to the Six Nations, and that reactive performance against France, is expected against Russia before they run out of puff.
What’s changed since March?
The weather. It’s almost unbearable.
“The humidity is certainly something we’re not used to,” said Schmidt. “I had a couple of brothers who went to the England-Tonga game and they said that they were saturated just sitting watching it and even a couple of guys in amongst [the media] that I was talking to had to leave after 60 minutes, because they’d dissolved.
“Once you get out there and actually try to play in it, it’s going to be a real challenge. We’ve got to have a plan in place.”
There will be water breaks. It took Scotland 74 minutes to capture the bonus point when trapped under Misaki’s ceiling. They needed two penalty tries.
Fall off a cliff
Richie Murphy, Ireland’s kicking coach, was asked to explain why so many players seemed to fall off a cliff, physicality-wise, after half-time against Japan.
“Look, you can say how the team faded but we did have opportunities in the last 20 minutes,” Murphy countered. “The surprising fact is we weren’t able to capitalise on some of them due to some decision-making errors and some skill-execution levels.”
Fresh from a Siberian winter, Russia captain Vasily Artemyev offers a different perspective.
“Some teams are more adaptable to the conditions,” said Artemyev. “I can’t say it is a key factor, the humidity. You can save energy by playing in the right areas.”
The hits keep on coming because the Ireland camp keep leaving themselves open. In the wake of Schmidt publicly noting how Angus Gardner and Jerome Garces (today’s referee) made errors that damaged Ireland’s chance of escaping Shizuoka unbeaten, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen adopted a different policy to the Ireland coach, Argentina’s Mario Ledesma and Michael Cheika, who have all excoriated match officials, in their own particular way.
“All I’ll say about the referees is they are under a lot of pressure,” Hansen began. “I talked before we came to this tournament how pressure can affect rugby teams [he said this about Ireland]. And referees are no different, so there is no point in everybody climbing into them. Because it is not going to do anything other than put them under more pressure, and it is not going to fix the problems.”
Wily as ever is Constable Hansen.
“It’s hot,” went Andy Farrell in his matter-of-fact way at the Captain’s Run. “How do we adapt? We make sure there’s a no-excuse mentality.”
Russia is not the problem. Nor is the weather. Purgatory continues.