Japan’s Prince Akishino declared the Rugby World Cup open on Friday, the first time the global showcase has been held in Asia as the game seeks to tap into new horizons.
Twenty teams will compete for the Webb Ellis Cup with the final in Yokohama on November 2 and the gleaming trophy was carried out by the former skipper of the reigning champions, All Black Richie McCaw.
The 2019 edition is expected to be one of the most open World Cups in history, with five or six teams capable of dethroning the defending champions.
Combining the ancient with the modern, the ceremony drew deeply on symbolic Japanese cultural references.
Encapsulated in the theme of a Japanese festival, the ceremony told the story of the mythical dawn of time, rugby’s origins and its arrival in Japan, and the blossoming of Rugby World Cup into today’s global showpiece.
A military brass band, traditional dancers, live DJs, martial artists and drummers all took to the stage, as high-definition graphics projected onto the stage.
The 20 countries taking part were announced, the biggest roars saved for the host nation, closely followed by defending champions New Zealand and South Africa.