|Rugby World Cup Pool A: Scotland v Russia|
|Venue: Shizuoka Stadium, Fukuroi City Date: Wednesday, 9 October Kick-off: 08:15 BST|
Just after Gregor Townsend finished his press conference at the Musical Instrument Museum in downtown Hamamatsu, he walked to the back of the hall and instead of doing what he usually does – opening the door and going back to work – the Scotland head coach hung about and waited.
There was a reason for that. For the first time since the beginning of the World Cup, Gordy Reid was in the interview chair and, when the prop is at the microphone, he’s usually worth listening to. When you ask the senior people in this Scotland squad if they remember Reid’s speech before the quarter-final against Australia four years ago, almost to the day, they normally come back with words to this effect: “Remember it? I’ll never forget it!”
“Everyone is writing us off as underdogs,” he said at a media gig a few days before facing the Wallabies. “I don’t care. It’s awesome. Just look at the movies. It’s always the underdog who wins. Just look at the Mighty Ducks. We can be those Mighty Ducks.”
The air of confusion in the room at the time matched the sheer joy of listening to a guy speaking with such passion. Who were the Mighty Ducks? We looked them up. A kids ice hockey team from Minneapolis apparently. Coached by Emilio Estevez in a movie that first got released 23 years earlier. Triumphed against all odds, the Ducks. It was one of Gordy’s favourite films. When he left the room we had enough material from his tour-de-force to last until game day, which was still about 72 hours away.
That’s why Townsend lingered. As the home place of the Yamaha Corporation, the world’s leading piano manufacturing company. Hamamatsu is the City of Music – and this was show time. Reid had just been named in the team to start against Russia in Shizuoka and the big man – now a member of the Ayrshire Bulls – was loving it.
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Hurricane Haggis on its way
Morning in Hamamatsu brought word of a typhoon, the 19th of the season, approaching southern Japan at the weekend, possibly impacting on Ireland’s game against Samoa in Fukuoka on Saturday, a Test that has considerable significance to Scotland. If that game has to be called off – it won’t be, but there’s still a slight possibility that it will be moved to a different city – then it would be declared a draw and Scotland’s prospects of making the quarter-finals would increase.
Predicted to be “fierce” with wind speeds of up 270kph, it was given the name Hagibis by the Japan Meteorological Agency, which was immediately changed to Hurricane Haggis by a giddy Scottish press corp. There was also some talk that if this thing changed direction a wee bit then Scotland’s final pool game against Japan in Yokohama could also be impacted.
Gordy, however, was having none of that. “Come on, we’re from Scotland! We’ve had worse weather – rain, hail, everything in one day,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. We’ve coped well with a lot more. We’re from Glasgow, from Ayrshire. We’re not as posh as some from Edinburgh, but we are from Scotland. We’re used to this kind of thing. Whatever it is – rain or shine, snow, it doesn’t matter. We’re going to go out there and play and give 100%.”
Wednesday will be Reid’s 40th cap, a nice milestone for a player that you feel truly appreciates every last second he has in the blue jersey. He’s behind Allan Dell in the pecking order, but that’s fine. He’s not one of the stars, but that’s OK, too. Where he stands out is in personality. There’s nobody like him. In an age when media training can coach the character out of a player, Reid is impervious.
He’s posted a number of videos on his Twitter account. One of them is of him busting in on Stuart McInally in his room and pointing out the privileges that the captain gets that no other player has. “A double bed… a vanity table to do his hair… a lovely view, mine is of a brick wall… and look at this, he’s even got fruit!” He films another in a taxi in Japan asking the driver, through a hand-held Audio translator, if there’s “anywhere that does Irn Bru?”
Townsend, he says, has “given me into trouble for some of them, but I want to have fun and experience different things. You don’t get to do this every day. Japan, you know, you can only dream about it. People would give their left leg, their right leg, their left everything to be over here, to be in the position we are. We’ve got a chance to do something special. It starts against Russia and we go on after that.
“I’m grabbing it with both hands. Coming over here, I wanted to have a laugh and enjoy my Rugby. The last year [with his old club London Irish] I was going through a bad time, I missed my family and it just wasn’t good for me. I’ve kind of overcome that now and this has given me a new lease of life and I want it to continue.”
‘They are bringing it, but so are we’
Reid played in three games at the last World Cup – South Africa from the start and Samoa and Australia off the bench – and this will be his third game of this World Cup, which will also be his last World Cup barring an age-reversing machine being invented. Reid will be 36 come France 2023.
He’s driven to make the most of it. “I’m really excited about the challenge ahead,” he said of facing Russia. “We’re expecting a massive battle. They’re a proud team but the thing is, we’re proud, too. We’re passionate about Scotland and showing what we can do. They’re bringing it, but so are we.
“They’re definitely not mugs. We have done a lot of analysis on them and found a lot of good points – their set-piece, their line-out drives, their kicking game. They offer a lot in the forwards. Their tighthead (and Reid’s direct rival, Kirill Gotovtsev) is a big strong boy and given an opportunity he can cause a bit of damage.”
The food question was coming, you sensed it. Sooner or later somebody was going to ask it because Reid is known as a man of simple culinary pleasures and it’s also known that Japan has thrown up some issues on that front. Here, again, his uniqueness comes out. It seems that all bar the prop is in thrall to the grub.
“The food is a challenge for myself, but it is great trying different things,” he said. “Gregor laughs every time we go to a new restaurant. I tried tapas and I’ve never tried tapas in my life. That was when we were [in camp] back in Scotland. Over here I’ve tried sushi. It is not really agreeing with me to be honest, but I’m trying it. There are a couple of fast-food places I have quite enjoyed, though.
“You go into supermarkets and you see cooked chickens and other stuff. I saw these things… they can only be described as like meatballs… but one of them was purple and one was green. I didn’t have a clue what it was, and I tried it, and I’m not going to lie, it was actually quite good. I don’t have a clue what it was, so if any of the Japanese [media] want to help out…”
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None of the Japanese media responded. They were probably too bamboozled. All of them were listening to Reid’s words being relayed to them through an earpiece translator but Lord only knows how those words came across. Later, when Reid had departed, one of them approached.
“This player was…” “Gordon Reid,” I replied. “The prop. A bit of a character…”
“Character, yes,” said the man from local television, somewhat hesitantly. The look on his face was familiar. It was the same ‘What the hell just happened there?’ look visible all around the room four years ago when Gordy summoned up the spirit of the Mighty Ducks as part of a master plan to beat the Wallabies.
He was almost right. Almost is no good this time. Hungry for this game to start, he knows it more than anybody.