Langford-based national rugby squad sidelined by Japan typhoon, plans to help survivors

The Langford-based Canadian rugby team spent the night listening to their hotel windows rattling and watching the streets outside flood in typhoon-hit Kamaishi, Japan.

They awoke to the news that their final game in the 2019 World Cup, scheduled for 8 p.m. Pacific Time Saturday, had been cancelled because of Typhoon Hagibis.

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“We are universally disappointed not to be playing our final game of the World Cup, which we had targeted to win, but we understand the severity of the situation,” said Canadian player Luke Campbell of Victoria.

“People are losing property here and have died elsewhere in Japan, and this is bigger than rugby right now.”

That this happened to Kamaishi is tragically ironic. The small, rugby-mad town was devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami with more than 1,000 deaths. A big part of its rebuilding was the awarding of two World Cup games and the construction of Recovery Memorial Stadium on the site where two schools used to stand before being wiped out by the tsunami (all the students followed their teachers and escaped in time to higher ground).

“This community has been through so much. And rugby was such a big part of the rebuild, and the people here had looked forward for four years to hosting their two World Cup games,” said Campbell, a graduate of the Oak Bay High and University of Victoria Vikes programs.

The Fiji-Uruguay game in Kamaishi was played in ideal conditions earlier in the World Cup and pre-Hagibis.

The Canadian players were also concerned about the well-being of family and friends who have been following the team in Japan. Campbell’s family from Victoria — mother Marilyn Campbell is an Olympic silver-medallist rower and dad Howie Campbell a former UVic rowing coach — are in Kamaishi. So is Campbell’s girlfriend, former UVic soccer goalkeeper Stephanie Parker.

“It’s just awful conditions here and we were worried about our family and friends,” said Campbell.

Kamaishi is in Iwate prefecture, of which Victoria’s sister city Morioka is the capital. The crowd for the game was expected to be strongly pro-Canadian because of that connection.

Four-time World Cup legend Gareth Rees of Victoria, media manager for the national team in Japan, said the Canadian players will pitch in with the post-storm clean-up in Kamaishi.

“It’s a coastal community reminiscent of our B.C. coast. The streets are flooded here, our lobby was flooded, and we’ll see what we can do to help,” Rees said.

“The players are disappointed not to play a game we had targeted to win, but everybody understands the situation. There are big mountains behind the stadium and there is concern about mudslides. It makes sense to cancel the game. So, we’ll just pitch in and help around town the best way we can. Also, our school visits were cancelled this week because of the storm, so it would be nice to get out to help at the schools, as well.”

Canada and Namibia will finish 0-3 in the very difficult Pool B, which included legendary powers the New Zealand All Blacks and South African Springboks, and Six Nations side Italy.

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