A World Cup pool phase facing criticism for predictability received a much-needed shot of life with Japan’s stunning result over Ireland on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Say whatever you like about this World Cup, but there is no denying that the people of Japan have knocked it out of the park when it comes to making the event a vibrant, multi-cultural showpiece like no other.
Almost every game has been superbly supported, but the atmosphere that grew to fever pitch at the Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa on Saturday was something else altogether.
Tens of thousands of fans draped in the red-and-white colours of Japan must surely receive plenty of credit for lifting their team to a remarkable level of performance where they not just sneaked past Ireland, but in fact finished the game as undoubtedly the stronger side.
The 2015 ‘Miracle of Brighton’ against the Boks was made into a movie. Well, there is already a sequel to be filmed.
It was also an especially important result in the context of a tournament that has started with a novelty and ‘newness’ factor, but threatened to lose some interest due to the predictability of results.
Unfortunately, it has been clear to see that some of the weaker teams at this World Cup just do not have the professionalism or foundations to be competitive against top-tier teams.
Yet, this past week Uruguay livened up the pool phase with a memorable upset against Fiji, but that barely compares to the delight that Japan dished up at their home tournament on Saturday.
There’s no denying that Japan has established itself as a rugby nation that has to be taken seriously.
It’s sad that the Sunwolves’ inclusion in Vodacom Super Rugby hasn’t quite panned out the way it was hoped, and they will be leaving the tournament under a dark cloud of ‘what ifs’.
Yet, it’s clear to see that Japan love their rugby, and that passion has taken the Asian nation by storm.
After Fiji’s shock defeat earlier this week, there was an admission that they had underestimated the gumption of Uruguay. One has to wonder whether Ireland perhaps fell into a similar trap against a Japan side that fronted up and delivered surely their most complete performance ever on the international stage.
There is no doubt that World Rugby needs to do more to provide the financing and support for the second- and third-tier nations to ensure that they are not found to be so out of their depth on the World Cup stage.
Indeed, the intentions behind the idea of the proposed Nations Championship can surely not be faulted, but the idea never met universal approval and was ultimately scrapped earlier this year.
But what Japan have shown at just the right time is that they have become a force to be reckoned with, and that there is still the very real possibility that widely expected results are never set in stone.
For some fans who were just getting ready to hit the snooze button on this World Cup, the Japan team have also ensured that they have just reignited real interest in their home tournament. And by the looks of it, there may just be more fun to come from the aptly named Brave Blossoms.
Photo: Lynne Cameron/Getty Images