South Africa 32-34 Japan: Japan have secured arguably the biggest upset in rugby history as they stunned South Africa in Brighton on the second day of the 2015 RWC.
South Africa 32-34 Japan
A last-minute try gave Japan an historic victory over South Africa after a remarkable performance in Brighton in which the Japanese secured what is now probably the greatest shock result in rugby history.
The Brave Blossoms, ranked 13th in the world, and with only one win in their Rugby World Cup history (against Zimbabwe in 1991) prior to Saturday, were never expected to get close to beating the 3rd ranked Springboks, but a dazzling display from start to finish, culminating in a brilliant final minute try from substitute Karne Hesketh saw Japan achieve the seemingly impossible dream.
There was always hope that the lower-ranked teams could hold their own and give the top sides a real contest this tournament, but nobody, not even the most optimistic Japanese fans, or the most downbeat South African fans, could have seriously predicted what was about to happen.
Eddie Jones’ Japan showed their intent from the outset, frequently willing to run the ball from deep, whilst also fronting up to the physical Springboks defensively as well, and an early penalty from fullback Ayumu Goromaru gave Japan an early lead.
South Africa hit back soon afterwards, and a textbook catch-and-drive allowed Francois Louw to score the opening try of the match. The conversion made the score 7-3, but Japan were not about to be rolled over. After a lengthy spell of pressure they scored their opening try on the half-hour mark, with Captain Michael Leitch also benefiting from a catch-and-drive move to score, putting Japan 10-7 ahead.
South Africa hit back again moments later, with yet another catch-and-drive move allowing Bismarck Du Plessis to touchdown, and at half-time South Africa held a narrow 12-10 lead, far closer than anyone was seriously predicting.
The feeling remained that the Boks would eventually pull clear, such was the quality and experience in their side, and after Japan scored an early second-half penalty to briefly retake the lead, second-rower Lood de Jager powered through some weak tackling to score his team’s third try, and put South Africa 19-13 ahead.
Once again however, Japan refused to go away, and two penalties from Goromaru levelled the scores, before an exchange of penalties took the score to 22 all. Just as it looked as though a shock was on though, South Africa scored again in their 62nd minute, with hooker Adrian Strauss powering through the opposition defence to score his team’s fourth try, with the conversion opening the lead out to seven points.
Yet again though, Japan hit back, this time through a brilliant first-phase move from an attacking line-out, which eventually saw Goromaru released into space to score in the corner, leveling the scores again at 29-29, and the dream result was once again back on course.
South Africa retook the lead in the 73rd minute through a penalty from Handre Pollard, but Japan remained unphased. Another long spell of possession and territory brought the Japanese within metres of the South African try-line. They thought they had scored the winning try minutes from the end when a rolling maul saw them drive over, but replays showed no sign of the ball being grounded.
Japan were still on the attack though, and, with South African prop Coenie Oosthuizen in the sin-bin, turned down the chance go level with a penalty, electing instead for a scrum from five metres out, clearly believing victory was possible. It turned out to be an inspired call. After a few phases of both forwards and backs trying to reach the line, a final slick passing move released Hesketh to score in the corner, lifting the roof off the Brighton Community Stadium in the process.
The result will be a hammer-blow for the Boks, who would have expected to win this game comfortably, and now face a serious battle just to get out of Pool B. They certainly didn’t play to the level expected of them, but nothing must be taken away from Japan. They played some brilliant rugby from the word go, and proved to themselves and to the world that Japan are a serious rugby team, and that anything is possible in sport.
Elsewhere on day two of the 2015 RWC there was no such upsets in Pool D. Ireland scored seven tries on the way to a 50-7 win over Canada in Cardiff, while France overpowered Italy 32-10 at Twickenham. Georgia however produced a slight upset, beating Tonga, a team ranked five players higher in the World Rankings, 17-10 at Gloucester, giving themselves an outside chance of progression from Pool C in the process.
The day however belonged to Japan, who have turned Pool B and indeed the rugby world on its head after this magnificent result. They have only four days to recover before facing Scotland on Wednesday, but they will fear nobody are beating the Boks. As for the rest of the tournament, this result has proven that anything can happen, and sometimes, it really does.