Saturday 19 October 2019

Cian Tracey: 'Ireland World Cup show rolls on to Fukuoka after a week of Kobe beef'

Defence coach Andy Farrell during Ireland Rugby squad training session at Shirouzuoike Park in Fukuoka, Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Defence coach Andy Farrell during Ireland Rugby squad training session at Shirouzuoike Park in Fukuoka, Japan. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

After two weeks spent largely cut off from the rest of the outside world, Ireland have re-immersed themselves back into the heart of a major city.

Having opted to base themselves in Rokko island, a man-made island off Kobe, opportunities to experience what the city had to offer were somewhat limited as the squad built towards the win over Russia last week.

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Joe Schmidt has always preferred low-key preparation and for those of us who were staying at the same hotel, there was plenty of ducking and diving to avoid those awkward elevator conversations.

It wasn't just us however, as Rory Best had to show his quick reactions to narrowly miss a stray back-hand from a colleague of this parish, as the Ireland captain and Simon Easterby ran through a lineout throwing drill on the tennis court alongside.

Thankfully, the few days in Kobe passed by without incident, which was largely in keeping with Ireland's underwhelming win over Russia.

Back home, when you think of Kobe, the first thing that generally comes to mind is the city's famous beef. Unlike Argentina at this World Cup, that really didn't disappoint.

The first opportunity to get a taste for it was on a tour of city, which also included a trip to Arima Hot Springs – a stunning resort situated in the mountains just outside the city.

It was a small sample size but enough to whet the appetite and ensure that we found a restaurant serving Kobe beef later in the week.

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Hot springs are big around these parts. Over here, they are called 'Onsens'. They essentially involve stripping down to the nip and relaxing in large pools and saunas.

Suffice to say, just like the cold tea that is served in Japan, the onsens are not for everyone.

A helpful recommendation from Dave Dillon via a colleague ensured that we ended up in one of the better, and crucially, more affordable Kobe beef restaurants.

Dillion is head coach of the Kobe Steers, Dan Carter's team, and he previously spent time working and coaching in St Michael's College.

The restaurant in question which is best described as off the beaten track confirmed our earlier suspicions. The beef is delicious. Believe the hype.

The walls are adorned with photographs of the famous faces who have passed through the door. They include the likes of Carter as well as Japanese footballers Shinji Kagawa and Keisuke Honda.

Ireland enjoyed a training session with the Kobe Steers and although Carter wasn't involved, they felt it was ideal preparation leading into the Russia game at the Kobe Misaki Stadium.

"They were brilliant, absolutely brilliant," Joe Schmidt said of the Steelers.

"We regularly train against the (Ireland) under 20s so it was a relatively young Kobe side.

"They didn’t have some of their big overseas stars there like Dan Carter, but the energy they brought – and not only that, but they counter-rucked us a couple of times and gave us a good old bashing."

Luke McGrath echoed his head coach's thoughts about the Kobe outfit by saying:

“It was brilliant. The conditions were really hot. I know we will be playing in a different heat but we were out there under 29 degrees so it was difficult.

"They had a mixture of senior guys and academy out from Kobe. They were very skillful, brilliant. It was nice to come up against an opposition you have never met before."

Given our location on the secluded island, there wasn't enough time to fully take in what Kobe had to offer but one free morning did afford to chance to take a short ride on a funicular to the top of Mont Rokko.

Upon reaching the summit, you get a real sense of what the city is all about with stunning views of the harbour as well as our cut-off island.

It says a lot about the place and perhaps the wages that are on offer, that Carter has ended up in Kobe while so too have Andres Iniesta, David Villa, Thomas Vermaelen and Lukas Podolski.

Sport is thriving in the city and while rugby may not be as big, the locals are hopeful that it can grow on the back of the likes of Ireland passing through.

For those planning to visit Kobe, there is comfort in knowing that it is a good base to reach other nice cities such as Osaka and Kyoto, which are both very accessible on the bullet train.

The show now rolls onto Fukuoka – a city renowned for its ramen.

If it's half as good as the beef, then the Irish supporters who are due to flock to the next step along the journey, will be just as pleased as they were for the few days in Kobe. 

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