Welcome to the land of the rising scrum. That will be the message from Japan in the autumn of 2019, when it hosts the 9th Rugby World Cup. It is important for Japan that the tournament is a success; sports diplomacy is a key ingredient in its "soft power" strategy and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are coming up next. It is equally important for rugby, as it attempts to establish itself as a global sport. A decent on-field performance by the Japanese team would work wonders on both counts.
This is the first World Cup to be held outside rugby's traditional homelands of Britain, its former dominions and France and the first to be hosted by a so-called "second tier" nation. In the 2018 football (sometimes known as "soccer") World Cup, there was a perceptible closing of the gap between the traditional superpowers, such as Brazil, Germany and Italy (which did not even qualify) and smaller, less heralded nations such as Croatia and Belgium.