AAP Rugby

Sapporo a change in pace for Wallabies

By AAP Newswire

Welcome to Sapporo, where rugby barely rates a mention and where the Wallabies will be anxious about a momentous sporting upset nearly 20 years ago.

Michael Cheika's Australian team were relocating to at the northern-most venue of the Rugby World Cup on Wednesday, four days out from their potentially dangerous opening match against Fiji.

Having spent more than a week training in Odawara, near Tokyo, where World Cup excitement levels are escalating, the players may find their pulse rates easing in this picturesque city, the largest on the island of Hokkaido.

A dearth of World Cup paraphernalia is mirrored by seemingly modest reportage in local media ahead of a fleeting involvement in the tournament.

The Sapporo Dome indoor stadium hosts just two games, both this weekend, including Sunday's England-Tonga clash.

All four teams have largely prepared elsewhere in Japan, further muffling interest in an area where baseball, soccer and skiing are favoured pursuits.

None of the 16 clubs in Japan's Top League hail from Hokkaido.

Internationally, the city is best known for hosting the 1972 Winter Olympics and staging three pool games at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, where the Sapporo Dome was the scene of a seismic upset.

Tournament favourites Argentina were stunned 1-0 by England, with David Beckham's penalty ultimately ousting the South Americans before the knockout phase.

The 42,000-capacity ground will return next week to its main use, with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters nearing the end of a 143-game regular season in the Nippon Professional Baseball league.

Switching between codes won't be a problem for ground staff.

In an engineering feat that was captured on time lapse video and caused a stir on social media, the rectangular grass rugby turf was rolled inside the venue this week.

It will be wheeled back out to make way for the the diamond-shaped artificial baseball turf.