Great­est shock in sport

Tour­na­ment’s 1000-1 out­siders hu­mil­i­ate the Spring­boks

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Front Page - By Mick Cleary at Brighton Com­mu­nity Sta­dium

Shock and awe in the Brighton air. The va­cant stares in South African eyes at the fi­nal whis­tle made an ar­rest­ing im­age as Ja­pan in­flicted on the two-time World Cup cham­pi­ons the great­est up­set in the history of Test rugby.

The scores were so close right to the death, when Ja­pan turned down a chance to draw in the fi­nal se­quence, opt­ing for a scrum in­stead of try­ing to kick a penalty goal, and the rugby world threat­ened to tilt on its axis. It duly did when re­place­ment Karne Hes­keth ar­rowed in at the cor­ner in the fourth minute of overtime.

It was the re­ward for nerve, to­geth­er­ness and the joy of self-ex­pres­sion. Ja­pan had been ham­mer­ing at the line in the very last burst of ac­tion, with Coe­nie Oosthuizen sent to the sin-bin as the Spring­boks grew ever more des­per­ate to stem the flow.

In the end, they cracked and Ja­pan were ex­ul­tant. As was most of the watch­ing world. It was a heady, in­tox­i­cat­ing af­ter­noon, the most breath­less, breath­tak­ing Test match many of us have ever wit­nessed. Any­where. Any time. All hail Ja­pan. It was a fa­mous, fa­mous day.

The sea­side mood, the bright skies, the city throng­ing with de­light, it was easy to in­dulge in flights of fancy and even if the sight of 11 Ja­panese play­ers trundling the mighty beasts of Bokke­dom back over their try line af­ter half an hour is not the sort of fan­tasy nor­mally en­ter­tained in this louche part of the world, it drew a roar that echoed across the South Downs.

It was a vivid por­tent of things to come. It was a gang ac­tiv­ity of a wholly le­git­i­mate kind, a land­mark mo­ment, a clear sign that this World Cup is ac­tu­ally go­ing to live up to its billing as the most com­pet­i­tive as well as the most in­clu­sive. The party is for ev­ery­one, not just a se­lect brother­hood. Ja­pan have proved that in quite re­mark­able fash­ion.

Ja­pan were bright, re­source­ful, en­gaged and fu­elled by a belief that the im­pos­si­ble was pos­si­ble, their bril­liant full-back, Ayumu Goro­maru, scor­ing 24 points, in­clud­ing a rous­ing late try. There were he­roes all over the field, from scrum-half Fu­mi­aki Tanaka to cap­tain lock Michael Leitch. It was a fab­u­lous ef­fort. Ja­pan have a sim­ple pledge – they want to re­store their World Cup cred­i­bil­ity ahead of host­ing the tour­na­ment in 2019. And they did so at ev­ery turn, of­ten strip­ping the Boks in pos­ses­sion be­fore strik­ing with their own brand of slick, pur­pose­ful rugby.

They may lack bal­last but they cer­tainly do not want for brain. They are su­per-smart rugby play­ers, in­tent on out­fox­ing the op­po­si­tion. Their very first scrum was a study in kind.

As the Spring­boks heaved and surged for­ward on a Ja­pan put-in, the ball was al­ready away. A chan­nel-one heel of the ball – retro rugby.

The tempo was high and it was re­lent­less. Ja­pan were not go­ing to die won­der­ing “what if ”.

And they did not. They feared noth­ing and at­tacked from all over and in ev­ery which way. One sublime side­step from Goro­maru, leav­ing hooker Bis­marck du Plessis flat-footed, opened up the field.

Goro­maru ought to have fed his wing, Ak­i­hito Ya­mada, and paid the price for ig­nor­ing the over­lap when he was flat­tened by Zane Kirch­ner. Goro­maru made par­tial amends mo­ments later when slot­ting a penalty goal only to fluff a sim­i­lar ef­fort shortly af­ter­wards.

Yet they never did crum­ble, never lost that in­ner rage and deep com­mit­ment to each other and their mis­sion. Their de­fence was a study in pre­ci­sion as well as pas­sion.

One dou­ble tackle from lock Luke Thompson and the out­stand­ing Tanaka, dis­lodged the ball from the grasp of the moun­tain­ous Schalk Burger, en­abling Ja­pan to clear the ball 65 me­tres down­field. It was com­pelling stuff.

The no­tion of reach­ing the quar­ter­fi­nals may have seemed a wild dream to out­siders given that be­fore yesterday Ja­pan had only won one World Cup match, way back in 1991.

But their head coach, Ed­die Jones, is noth­ing if not bullish, a trait he has al­ways put into play from his time with the Wal­la­bies, as well as the Spring­boks, for whom he was tech­ni­cal as­sis­tant in Jake White’s World Cup-win­ning 2007 man­age­ment team. Jones, who took Aus­tralia to the fi­nal against Clive Wood­ward’s Eng­land in 2003, knew only too well what lay ahead of his team.

Jones is noth­ing if not a canny street­fighter, a proven op­er­a­tor when it comes to get­ting the best from a side, as the 2003 World Cup fi­nal il­lus­trates. He was shrewd, too, in re­cruit­ing for­mer Eng­land and Sara­cens lock, Steve Borth­wick, to the cause.

It was easy to see the fruits of their labours, Ja­pan us­ing su­perb tech­nique to shield the ball and ex­ert a drive as they piled over the South Africa line in the 30th minute, Leitch com­ing up tri­umphantly with the ball. Ja­pan had been de­nied a sim­i­lar score a minute ear­lier only by the Tele­vi­sion Match Of­fi­cial.

The Spring­boks were the Spring­boks, a se­ri­ous out­fit, not used to hav­ing their tail tweaked. They had to dig deep to get back in the game, re­vert­ing to their tra­di­tional meth­ods of sub­mis­sion, twice ham­mer­ing over from short-range line-outs in the first half, Fran­cois Louw and Du Plessis com­ing up with the scores.

A soft try just af­ter the break from gal­lop­ing lock, Lood de Jager, when Ja­pan missed their only tackle of their en­tire game, through prop Masa­taka Mikami, ap­peared to let South Africa off the hook.

Adri­aan Strauss, the re­place­ment hooker, then blasted over in the 62nd minute only for Goro­maru to come back with two more penal­ties.

The Spring­boks are on their back­sides. This test­ing en­counter will cause huge tremors in South African rugby. They are fully aware that the road ahead is tough.

They have had their worst ever Rugby Cham­pi­onship, los­ing all three matches, in­clud­ing a first de­feat at the hands of Ar­gentina, at home in Dur­ban. They have been writ­ten off for poor form, cas­ti­gated (as ever) for off-field po­lit­i­cal mat­ters, de­cried as a Dad’s Army con­tin­gent, and now this shat­ter­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ja­pan, by con­trast, never wilted, never lost heart or hope. Goro­maru streaked to the line in the 69th minute and then came that dra­matic fi­nale. Brave Blos­soms in­deed.

Top of the world: Haru­michi Tatekawa (right) cel­e­brates Ja­pan’s as­ton­ish­ing 34-32 vic­tory

Giants cut down: South Africa re­act to their last-gasp de­feat by Ja­pan

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