17:39 17 February 2017
Rugby: Sunwolves warm-up game marks a series of firsts
By Rich Freeman
KITAKYUSHU, Japan, Feb. 17, Kyodo
Saturday's game between the Sunwolves and the Top League All-Stars sees a number of firsts.
Filo Tiatia's first game in charge of Japan's Super Rugby franchise will be the first event held at the brand new Mikuni World Stadium.
The arena has been built on the waterfront about a 10-minute walk from Kokura Station and will be home to local J-League soccer side, Giravanz Kitakyushu.
The stadium -- which has a capacity of 15,300 and which overlooks the Kanmon Straits, the stretch of water separating Kyushu and Honshu -- has already won over two former All Blacks.
"Playing here and opening this fantastic stadium is a real honor for us," Tiatia said Friday. "We have players from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand as well as players from this district and they are all stoked to be playing at this ground."
Brave Blossoms coach Jamie Joseph, meanwhile, said he would like to return to the ground with the national team at some stage in the future.
"The stadium has a really good feel to it," the former New Zealand and Japan international said. "It's not too big and fans can really see and experience what is going on on the field."
Dubbed "Kitakyushu's Candlestick Park" in reference to the old baseball field in San Francisco, the stadium will also require another first in the form of Japan's equivalent of Fred Davies.
Davies was a coracle maker in England who for many years sat in his boat in the River Severn to rescue soccer balls kicked out of Shrewsbury Town's Gay Meadow ground.
On Saturday, local company Ikeda Jimusho will provide a boatman to sit in the water, which lies just a few meters behind the East Stand, to rescue any balls kicked out of the ground.
"I can confirm this is the first time the JRFU have ever paid for a boatman," said Top League Commissioner Osama Ota, adding that he expected two or three balls to end up in the water.