Japan recorded one of the biggest upsets in Test rugby history when they edged the Springboks 34-32 on Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI at Brighton Community Stadium.
The Boks have lost the first match of their 2015 World Cup campaign. They have a lot of ground to make up if they’re going to win their remaining matches in Pool B, and qualify for the play-offs. They were outplayed and out-thought by on an unforgettable evening in Brighton. It was a black day for South African rugby, and a glorious one for Japan.
Those who were at the ground will have a story to tell. The atmosphere inside the Brighton Community Stadium in those final minutes of the match was special. The noise inside the ground continued to rise with every phase of Japanese attack. Bok and Japan fans alike looked on in disbelief. Would the fairytale come true for Japan? Would the Boks’ worst nightmare be realised?
Japan endeavoured to spend the latter stages deep in Bok territory. The scoreboard read 32-29 in South Africa’s favour with only four minutes remaining in the game.
Japan won a penalty, but they turned down a kick at goal that would level the scores. They believed they could win. They won another penalty. And another. They turned down the shot on goal. They continued to search for the try that would give them a win the equivalent of a World Cup title.
And then, the moment arrived. The Boks were stretched on the right-hand flank, and reserve winger Karne Hesketh slid in for the try.
The final whistle blew. South African heads dropped. Japan players leaped into the air. The Japan bench rushed the field. A few streakers even made it past the security guards, who were as stunned by proceedings as anybody else.
Japan competed like wolverines on Red Bull. Their forwards clattered into their far larger Springbok counterparts. They attacked the South African ball-carrier two or three at a time. Their work rate on defence was matched by an accuracy more typical of a tier-one side. Japan’s performance was world-class.
That showing strongly contrasted the performance of the Boks. South Africa were dealt a blow on Saturday morning when one of their strongest ball-carriers and defenders, blindside flanker Willem Alberts pulled out of the game with a calf injury. Pieter-Steph du Toit was promoted to the starting lineup in the hope that he could provide a similar impact at the gainline. Unfortunately, Du Toit, who plays all his rugby at No 5 lock for the Sharks and had never started a Test before today, struggled to fill Alberts’ boots.
That said, the Boks failed to impose themselves as a collective. They scored two tries via the lineout maul in the first half, but conceded one to Japan at the other end of the field. They were outmuscled and out-thought at the breakdown, on attack as well as defence. Japan dictated the pace of the game, which was furiously fast and evidently too fast for a rusty Bok side.
Some may have expected Japan’s effort to falter in the second stanza, but that Red Bull never ran out. Two individual tries by the Boks, the first by Lood de Jager and then Adriaan Strauss, kept South Africa in the lead, but only just.
Through the boot of Ayumu Goromaru, Japan remained in touch. The Japan fullback then rounded off a well-worked attacking move. A subsequent conversion saw him finish with a personal points tally of 24.
Japan maintained their effort at the breakdown, as well as the speed of their game. They received a terrific reward at the death. No one can argue that they deserved the win.They now have a real chance of qualifying for the play-offs.
Nobody will be expecting the Boks to win the title after suffering a loss to the likes of Japan. On the basis of this performance, South Africa would do well to make the quarter-finals.
Springboks – Tries: Francois Louw, Bismarck du Plessis, Lood de Jager, Adriaan Strauss. Conversions: Pat Lambie (2), Handré Pollard. Penalties: Lambie, Pollard.
Japan – Tries: Michael Leitch, Ayumu Goromaru, Karne Hesketh. Conversions: Goromaru (2). Penalties: Goromaru (5).
Springboks – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Eben Etzebeth, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Fourie du Preez, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 JP Pietersen.
Japan – 15 Ayumu Goromaru, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Male Sau, 12 Harumichi Tatekawa, 11 Kotaro Matsushima, 10 Kosei Ono, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Hendrik Tui, 7 Michael Broadhurst, 6 Michael Leitch, 5 Hitoshi Ono, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Masataka Mikami.
Subs: 16 Takeshi Kazu, 17 Keita Inagaki, 18 Hiroshi Yamashita, 19 Shinya Makabe, 20. Amanaki Mafi, 21 Atsushi Hiwasa, 22 Harumichi Tatekawa, 23 Karne Hesketh.
Photo: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images