The final day of group games commenced and it meant a final few miles on the clock for me.
I’ve done Bromley to Brighton to London to Gloucester to Birmingham to Leeds to London to Cardiff to London to Leicester to Milton Keynes to Exeter to Newcastle to Manchester to Gloucester to Bromley! I’m not adding up the miles I’ve done yet, but I will at the end!
Today meant an early walk through Manchester to get a train to Gloucester, via Birmingham. In Birmingham, I was met by a lot of Ireland dans nervously heading to Cardiff. By the time we reached Gloucester the train was buzzing and whilst Cardiff sounded fun, I was glad to be back in Gloucester.
Leaving my bag behind, I headed for the pub and a few drinks to settle down to watch the final day of action while I waited for my wife to join me.
The earlier action was pretty much as expected. Argentina comfortably beat Namibia but the excellent Namibian score at the end was capped off by the retiring prop, Redelinghuys, attempting the conversion! It was such a funny moment and reiterated what the tournament is about. Next up, Italy confirmed their place at RWC2019 but beating a tough Romania team who fought hard until the end.
My wife met me at the pub and we watched the Ireland v France match and both teams looked pretty nervous to start but Ireland managed to keep their noses ahead despite a couple of bad looking injuries. It’s typical France though – they’ve looked decent, pretty solid, and then don’t show up when they should. Knowing them, they’ll turn up next week instead! The locals seemed to be favouring the Irish and they turned up the heat in the second half and could’ve won by more in the end.
The final group game then kicked off. Japan v USA was a dead rubber but nobody told the players that! We had great seats opposite the Shed and although the natives were decked in cherry and white and supporting Japan, the USA had a decent contingent, too. Japan looked lively as always and put together some good moves. The USA kept it close but Japan just looked that little bit stronger all over the pitch.
At the end, you could see the delight in the Japanese players. They became the first team to win 3 group games and not make the quarter finals. That almost seemed lost on them, the fact they were out and they looked so happy to have performed so smartly, so bravely and to have captured the imagination of the crowds wherever they went. They were a credit to their country.
The USA players didn’t seem as upbeat, as their campaign came to an end without a single point. They had definitely underperformed and they knew it. In a country where so many other sports are massive and the world’s largest sport, football, takes at least 4th billing, you do wonder how far rugby in America can go.
We hung around a bit at the end and I got a couple more Xs on my jersey and we were soon on the way home.
My friend had picked us up and managed to get us home in double fast time, for that I was grateful.
It had been a great 11 days of solid rugby but a night of sleep in my own bed, albeit a shortened one, was much appreciated.
The end of my journey hadn’t quite been reached, unlike that of 12 teams, but there isn’t much left now.
Just the final. The big one. The Fight for Billy.