Three years into his second stint living in Japan, Peter Musgrave takes his young son to a park in central Tokyo and sees people throwing around a rugby ball.
"It's chalk and cheese to when I first lived here," the 40-year-old Musgrave says.
Back in those days, from 2006-12, the bank worker from England barely noticed rugby in the Japanese capital unless he "went out to a foreigner bar to watch a game." The Brave Blossoms, as Japan's national team is affectionately called, were conceding nearly 100 points in games against the sport's major powers.
The thought of an audience of around 55 million — representing close to half the population — watching on TV as Japan won a rugby match with breathtaking skill to power into the quarterfinals at a home Rugby World Cup would have been consigned to the realms of fantasy.
Yet that's what happened in this 2019 global showpiece, the first Rugby World Cup to be held in Asia. It's been an absolute blast, an eye-opener not just for the estimated half-million traveling fans from 19 other competing countries but also for the Japanese people who have been such courteous and polite hosts.
There was the scene of 15,000 people turning up to watch Wales' first practice session of the tournament. Some arrived three hours before practice, lining up for more than a kilometer outside Kitakyushu Stadium.
How about Oita, the land of hot springs in the most southwestern of Japan's main islands and a place that could never be described as a rugby hotbed, welcoming fans of France, England, Wales and Australia for one memorable quarterfinal weekend? Locals, merely passing by pubs and bars, joined in the revelry, some being lifted up like they were second-row forwards in a lineout.
From Fukuroi to Fukuoka, from Kamaishi to Kumamoto, lasting memories have been made in this 6½-week tournament that has been 10 years in the planning but will draw to a close Saturday when England plays South Africa in the final.
So when the World Cup circus leaves town, what will be left behind? How does Japan sustain the rugby fever?
"I have a little worry, yes," former Japan rugby captain Toshiaki Hirose told The Associated Press. "Four years ago, we beat South Africa in the World Cup and a lot of Japanese people watched it. Now, I think Japanese people understand rugby as well, and respect the passion.
"I think there is an environment where kids want to start playing rugby but we should have this environment more, not just in the cities but also in the countryside."
Rugby lags behind baseball, soccer and others in the list of the most popular sports here. There are 92,000 registered rugby players — a 10th of the number in soccer — and there is a participation rate among teenagers of 1.5%, according to the most recent white paper on sport in Japan . Rugby tied ninth among the most popular spectator sports in Japan and didn't feature in the top 10 of most popular sports watched on TV.
The country has a 16-team domestic league, but only five Top League games in the entirety of last season attracted a crowd of more than 5,000 spectators.
Japan has had a team, the Tokyo-based Sunwolves, playing in the leading southern-hemisphere provincial competition — Super Rugby — since 2015 against rivals from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina. But they are about to be disbanded, leading to much uncertainty about their future.
Meanwhile, at grassroots level, Hirose says most kids can only choose one sport in which to specialize at school — and invariably that's baseball or soccer. There is also a shortage of age-group facilities, top-class coaches and even grass fields, says Musgrave.
"You have to be careful," says Andrew Fielder, a 41-year-old IT worker who also an expat in Tokyo. "Children need to have quality instructors otherwise they could hurt themselves. I would be worried. You'd want to be sure they have the right level of instruction, certification."
Musgrave and his 6-year-old son, Hugo, went along last week with Fielder and his 5-year-old son, Theon, to a Rugby Introduction Day staged by the Japan Rugby Football Union and World Cup sponsor Land Rover to encourage a younger generation to play the game in the wake of Japan's unprecedented run to the quarterfinals.
Among the superstar ex-players running the event were England World Cup winners Jonny Wilkinson and Lawrence Dallaglio, who have seen first-hand the new support for the Brave Blossoms.
"It was only a couple of World Cups ago that they were losing by large scores," Dallaglio said, likely recalling the 83-7 loss to New Zealand in 2011. "What they've done in the last eight years is phenomenal, so if they can continue that development ... the next generation hopefully will have been inspired by their heroes that they've witnessed out on the field."
Japan, a so-called Tier Two rugby nation, rarely gets to play the likes of the All Blacks or England outside of World Cups. Wilkinson says it is "imperative" that changes, with Dallaglio suggesting they could even enter the major southern or northern hemisphere international competitions.
"They need to continue to introduce them to quality opposition," Wilkinson said in a message to rugby's powerbrokers.
The powerbrokers are listening. World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont told a news conference in the wake of South Africa's 32-12 win over England in the final that the sport's international governing body was working to get emerging teams more regular access and meaningful matches. He said negotiations were underway for Japan to play England and Ireland within 12 months.
And he praised local organizers and fans, saying "Japan 2019 will be remembered as probably the greatest Rugby World Cup."
"We've broken records at every level: attendances, fan zones, broadcast, digital and social media," he said. "The success of this tournament has been personified by the warmth and passion of the Japanese people."
Other issues facing Japan is the possibility of its head coach, New Zealander Jamie Joseph, leaving and stalwart players like captain Michael Leitch having potentially played in their last World Cup. A new generation of players needs to come through, without that carrot of a World Cup on home soil.
Hirose doesn't want the tournament's success to be wasted. He has been around Japan, teaching kids the national anthems of the competing teams. He has seen the Japanese people take the Brave Blossoms to their hearts — "they like their courage and discipline" — and enjoy mixing with foreigners before and after games, "drinking, chatting, singing."
They've witnessed visiting fans paint the Japanese flag — the "Hinomaru" — on their faces, and wear bandanas decked with the red-and-white colors of Japan.
World Rugby says its legacy programs have introduced 1.8 million people in Asia to the sport.
"One of the reasons we came to Asia," Beaumont says, "was to actually leave a legacy. What we have to do is carry on working so when you come back in two years' time, the people are talking about it."
Defending champion Nelly Korda birdied the first hole of a three-way playoff on Sunday to win the LPGA Swinging Skirts.
Korda and Minjee Lee both birdied the final hole of regulation to finish at 18-under 270 and force a playoff with Caroline Masson, who shot a 68.
Korda, who started the final round with a three-stroke lead over Lee (69), looked set to win in regulation after a birdie on the par-5 No. 12. But she bogeyed three of her final five holes to fall one stroke back of Masson before a birdie on 18 gave her even-par 72.
Masson took the lead after back-to-back birdies on Nos. 15 and 16 but closed with par on the final two holes.
In the playoff on the par-5 18th, Korda sank her birdie putt while Masson and Lee made par.
Brooke Henderson shot a 68 to finish regulation tied for fourth, four strokes back with South Koreans Sei Young Kim and Mi Jung Hur.
Rory McIlroy thought he did everything he needed to win the HSBC Champions on Sunday, and then Xander Schauffele made him do a little more.
McIlroy delivered all the right shots in the playoff, smashing driver down the fairway and hitting 4-iron into 25 feet on the par-5 closing hole at Sheshan International to set up at two-putt birdie.
Schauffele, who birdied the 18th in regulation to force a playoff, had to lay up from the rough near a bunker, and his 12-foot birdie putt stayed just right of the hole.
McIlroy won for the fourth time this year. It was his third World Golf Championships title, and his first since the Match Play at Harding Park in 2015.
McIlroy played bogey-free over the last 39 holes and closed with a 4-under 68, taking trouble out of play down the stretch because he had the lead.
"Bogey-free on the weekend. I thought it would be enough to get the job done," McIlroy said.
Schauffele turned in a bold performance in his bid to become the first back-to-back winner of the HSBC Champions. He spent all week battling remnants of the flu, started the final round two shots behind and never let McIlroy feel in control.
Two shots behind with four to play, Schauffele birdied two of the last four holes for a 66, two-putting from the front of the green to a pin toward the back on the 18th in regulation, calmly making the 5-footer to force overtime at Sheshan for the second straight year.
"You have to give credit to Xander," McIlroy said. "He's been battling the flu and he played unbelievably well."
They finished at 19-under 269.
McIlroy moves a little closer to Brooks Koepka at No. 1 in the world with one tournament left, the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai the week before Thanksgiving to close out what already has been a special year. This is the fourth time McIlroy has won at least four times in a season.
Louis Oosthuizen birdied his opening two holes to set the early target, and he was tied with McIlroy until a tee shot into the trees on the ninth, and a chip that didn't reach the fairway, leading to bogey. Oosthuizen made another bogey on the 11th that effectively dropped him out of the race.
McIlroy took a two-shot lead with a bit of fortune on the par-5 14th. His second shot landed near the back pin but bounced hard into thick rough. His chip looked to be running some 10 feet by the hole, except that it hit the pin and left him a short birdie putt.
More fortune awaited on the 18th hole. One shot ahead of Schauffele, who was in the fairway, McIlroy went right and watched the ball bound off the hill and settle in thick rough a foot from the red hazard line. He punched out to the fairway, but his approach was 25 feet short and he missed a birdie putt for the win.
Phil Mickelson closed with a 68 and tied for 28th. With Shugo Imahira finishing second on the Japan Golf Tour, Mickelson will drop out of the top 50 in the world for the first time since Nov. 28, 1993, the longest consecutive streak in the top 50 since the Official World Golf Ranking began in 1986.
"It was a good run," Mickelson said. "But I'll be back."
Patrick Reed made one last audition as a captain's pick for the Presidents Cup with a 66 to tie for eighth. He has finished among the top 20 in 10 of his last 13 starts, including a victory in the FedEx Cup playoffs.
U.S. captain Tiger Woods announces his selections on Thursday.
Sungjae Im, bidding for one of four picks for the International team by Ernie Els, had a 72 and tied for 11th.
McIlroy now gets a two-week break before wrapping up his year in Dubai.
"I want to finish the year on a high note," he said.
Starting pitcher Yu Darvish and outfielder Jason Heyward are staying with the Chicago Cubs, who exercised their $11.5 million option for 2020 on left-hander José Quintana on Saturday and declined their $6.5 million option on lefty Derek Holland, which triggered a $500,000 buyout.
Darvish and Heyward both had the right to opt out of their contracts and become free agents, but decided against it.
Darvish is owed $81 million over the final four seasons of a $126 million, six-year deal, and Heyward is due $86 million in the next four seasons of a $184 million, eight-year contract.
A 33-year-old right-hander, Darvish was 6-8 with a 3.98 ERA in 31 starts this year after his first season with the Cubs was limited by a stress reaction in his right elbow and a triceps strain. He was 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA in 2018.
Darvish is 63-53 in seven major league seasons with Texas (2012-17), the Los Angeles Dodgers (2017) and the Cubs. His contract calls for $22 million in each of the next two seasons, $19 million in 2022 and $18 million in 2023.
Heyward, 30, hit .251 with 21 homers and 62 RBIs this year, the best of his four seasons with Chicago. He has hit .252 with 47 homers and 227 RBIs for the Cubs.
A 10-year veteran, he played for Atlanta from 2010-14 and St. Louis in 2015. His deal calls for $21 million in each of the next two seasons and $22 million in each of the final two years.
Quintana, a left-hander who turns 31 in January, was 13-9 with a 4.68 ERA in 32 appearances last season. Acquired from the White Sox in July 2017, Quintana is 33-23 with a 4.23 ERA in 78 appearances for the Cubs.
Quintana's contract, signed with the White Sox in March 2014, originally guaranteed $22 million and included two option years. It will wind up being worth $42 million over seven seasons.
If Chicago had declined the option, Quintana would have received a $1 million buyout.
The 33-year-old Holland was 0-1 with a 6.89 ERA in 20 games for Chicago last season after he was acquired from San Francisco on July 26, a deal that included cash and reduced Chicago's commitment to $425,000 of Holland's $6.5 million salary. As part of the trade, San Francisco agreed to pay Chicago $500,000 if the Cubs declined Holland's option.
Opener Aaron Finch hit 26 runs off one Mohammad Irfan over but it was all in vain after Australia's opening Twenty20 match against Pakistan ended in a no result due to persistent rain at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Australia was 41-0 off just 3.1 overs on Sunday when rain began to fall heavily in Sydney, just 11 balls away from the five overs required to constitute a match.
Mitchell Starc (2-22) and Kane Richardson (2-16) had earlier taken two wickets for the Australians after the hosts had won the toss and sent Pakistan in to bat.
Starc removed opener Fakhar Zaman and hard-hitting allrounder Imad Wasim for golden ducks, while Richardson also struck early.
But Pakistan captain Babar Azam saved the tourists, helping them rebound from 10-2 to 107-5 before Australia's target was revised to 119 in 15 overs.
The teams play the second match of the three-game series on Tuesday in Canberra, followed by the final one in Perth on Friday.
They will also play two test matches, beginning Nov. 21 in Brisbane and a day-night test in Adelaide from Nov. 29.