Rugby World Cup chief hails Japan's progress towards 2019

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Tokyo (AFP)

The head of the Rugby World Cup has hailed Japan's preparations for hosting the next edition in 2019 as well as the groundswell of excitement about the sport, a report said on Wednesday.

"We’re very excited and pleased about the progress that is being made here in Japan," Alan Gilpin told reporters, according to the Japan Times.

"In many respects, the preparation here is ahead of the preparation at the same stage of previous World Cups," he added, during a visit to meet with Japan 2019 organisers.

Japanese organisers suffered a setback last year as the government pulled the plug on the original plan to build its new national stadium in Tokyo -- which was set to host the tournament's opening game and final -- following spiralling costs and complaints over the design.

They were forced to name other stadiums, including Nissan Stadium in Yokohama, as replacement venues for what will be the first Rugby World Cup in Asia.

During the 2015 tournament in England, Japan's Brave Blossoms upset the odds by posting three wins, including a stunning 34-32 victory over two-time champions South Africa in their opening game.

The performances sparked a wave of rugby fever in Japan, with fans in particular cheering fullback Ayumu Goromaru, who played a key role in the tournament and has joined the Queensland Reds.

Japan has also formed the Sunwolves, its first team to play in Super Rugby, with the league expanding its global footprint for the 2016 season.

"We know that the landscape of rugby union here in Japan is very different to England," Gilpin said.

"We also know that the landscape for rugby here in Japan is different to how it was six months ago. There is an audience that is excited," he said.

"We’re excited to see that the World Cup halo effect still shines very brightly here in Tokyo and across Japan, with the continuation of 'Goromania,' the launch of the Sunwolves this coming weekend and an exciting program of fixtures for the Japanese national team as they begin their own journey toward a home World Cup," Gilpin said.