23 Sep 2019

Rugby World Cup: 'Steve Hansen ... he's a smart dude'

6:18 pm on 23 September 2019

Steve Hansen and the All Blacks have won a vote of confidence from a group of fans from the Asian country with the oldest rugby union - Sri Lanka.

George Bridge (11) of New Zealand tries in the first half during the Pool B match of 2019 Rugby World Cup against South Africa at the International Stadium Yokohama (Nissan Stadium) in Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture on September 21, 2019.

George Bridge in action during the Pool B match of the 2019 Rugby World Cup against South Africa in Yokohama. Photo: AFP

The All Blacks made a flying start to the defence of their Rugby World Cup title in Japan on the weekend, beating the Springboks 23-13 in Yokohama to take control of Pool B, and stamp their mark on the tournament.

Thousands of Kiwis and local fans wearing All Black gear packed the ground and lined the concourses outside as they celebrated the world champs first win of the tournament.

Andrew and Amila, who play rugby back home travelled to Japan from Sri Lanka to fulfil their dream of seeing the All Blacks play in the flesh.

And the pair were picking the New Zealanders to go all the way and win the tournament.

"We think the All Blacks will win the World Cup.

"They are number one in the world but not just because of that ... the coach. He is a smart dude, you know. Steve Hansen, he knows what to do."

They play rugby in Sri Lanka and decided to come to Japan to see one of the biggest matches - All Blacks against the Springboks.

"We wanted to come and see a world cup rugby match. And basically those two teams are the best - so we picked this game."

Sri Lanka has some 103,000 registered rugby players, effectively the second largest rugby-playing nation in Asia, though most games are played at a club or recreational level.

New Zealand and Sri Lankan rugby history became entangled in 1907 when the "professional All Blacks" - effectively a league team - played the then Ceylon team on their way to a tour of Great Britain.

Since the "All Blacks" were paid a fee of £50, the English Rugby Football Union banned amateur rugby countries from playing rep matches in Ceylon. The "professional All blacks" won 33-6 and the amateur-professional divide was sorted out next year.

The pair told RNZ the country enjoyed watching rugby.

"Hopefully the game will grow. We do have a lot of Fijians playing rugby in Sri Lanka. But guys at home love watching rugby."

The fans were loving the Rugby World Cup so far.

"Basically we love Japan and we love the people, how they treat the people and how they are hosting it. We love it here."

Sri Lanka currently sits at 46 in the men's world rugby rankings.

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