Japan may have been seen as a leftfield choice to host the Rugby World Cup but if you want a sense of the country's long love affair with the game, you could do worse than to get along to Tokyo's Fuwaku club.
The dozens of players running, passing, mauling, scrummaging and crashing into one another in the shadow of the Aquatics Centre being built for the 2020 Olympics are unremarkable in all but one thing -- their age.
At 54, Norihasa Yamada not only plays but officiates with a vibrant authority he says is modelled on Welsh referee Nigel Owens, who will take charge of the World Cup opener between Japan and Russia on Sept. 20.
Owens and English referee Wayne Barnes recently visited Fuwaku and Yamada took them for a Japanese barbecue lunch after training.
"It was so much fun and an honour to meet them," said Yamada, showing off a photograph of Owens at the lunch on his phone. "We spoke all about rugby, which is my favourite thing."