Japan beat SA to shock the world

Date published: September 19 2015

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Japan pulled off the greatest Rugby World Cup upset of all time with an outstanding 34-32 win over favourites South Africa in Brighton.

Karne Hesketh's try in stoppage time clinched an improbable victory after they were kept in the game by the boot of their full-back Ayumu Goromaru to counter four tries from South Africa by Francois Louw, Bismarck du Plessis, Lood de Jager and Adriaan Strauss.

Eddie Jones' side shocked the world with a controlled display in which they absorbed the Springboks' physicality and repelled it right back.

Goromaru, Japan's full-back, scored 24 points in a performance for the ages as the Brave Blossoms never gave up hope or let the two-time champions ever pause for breath.

Remarkably, this was Japan's first win in a Rugby World Cup match since defeating Zimbabwe in 1991. They now have new legends.

Breaking down Japan was no easy task for the Springboks and they relied on their impressive rolling maul early on. Only when Japan did miss tackles, not a common occurence, did the Springboks capitalise with tries from Lood de Jager and Adriaan Strauss.

The number of basic mistakes from the world's number two side was unacceptable, as was their penalty count at the breakdown.

Eddie Jones' work with Japan has to be commended, coming up with a game-plan that both contained South Africa and gave his side every chance of an upset. Despite an overwhelming number of physical mismatches, Japan were rigidly disciplined when it came to their defensive structure and showed unbelievable heart. 

This was illustrated time and again by holding out the Boks in their own 22, when they produced a number of turnovers. Jones has been heavily linked with a move to coach the Stormers in Super Rugby – what a shame that seems now with the progress Japan have clearly made since he took charge.

Twice early on the Springboks were turned over in Japan's 22 but Ayumu Goromaru was more ruthless. The full-back sliced his way through the South African defensive line before slotting the first penalty of the game to give Japan the lead.

A second penalty attempt from Goromaru fell wide but South Africa were wobbling – executing poor clearance kicks and with a vocal Brighton crowd seemingly against them.

It was a brief malaise. As soon as Ruan Pienaar and Pat Lambie were able to get their big forwards running straight and hard, Japan's defence was always going to creak.

Carries from Victor Matfield, Schalk Burger and Lood de Jager resulted in a penalty and after kicking to the corner the Springbok maul was unstoppable, finished off by Francois Louw and converted by Lambie for a 7-3 lead after 20 minutes.

Forcing Japan into making an exhaustive number of tackles began to pay off for South Africa and they should have scored a second try with numbers out to the left, but Burger mishandled a pass from Pienaar and Bismarck du Plessis was unable to control the loose ball.

After coming under the cosh for close to half an hour it was only fair that Japan unleashed their own rolling maul after an excellent touchfinder from Goromaru.

The Brave Blossoms came up short, confirmed by the TMO, but willed on by the crowd they wouldn't be stopped on the second attempt after returning to the corner from a penalty – the Japan captain Michael Leitch crashing over to make it 10-7.

South Africa naturally refused to be upstaged in the maul department and responded instantly with Bismarck du Plessis this time doing the honours.

Lambie's missed conversion meant the Springboks only held a slender two-point lead going into half-time.

Goromaru put Japan back ahead after the break with his second penalty but one missed tackle was all it took for De Jager to break free and canter through for South Africa's third try and a 19-13 advantage.

A third Goromaru penalty after the Springboks failed to roll away kept Japan in touch and even when Lambie convert a penalty of his own it wasn't long until Goromaru had a chance to hit back. 

His effort from over 40 metres made it 22-22 going into the final quarter.

Injecting the Springbok bench into the fray added fresh impetus to their carrying and Adriaan Strauss, just as De Jager had done earlier in the half, skipped through untouched for the bonus point try.

Goromaru however wasn't done. Cutting a fine line off a first-phase lineout move, he left the Springbok defence for dead to score, before converting his own try from the right touchline to once again level matters at 29-29 with ten minutes left.

With the crowd sensing that history was about to be made Lambie was booed after converting his second penalty to give the Springboks a three-point buffer.

That should have been that. It was so far from the end.

Japan unleashed a final assault on the Springboks line that after multiple penalties and reset scrums that took an age, when so often teams fail to execute, Japan kept their cool.

Mafi, who carried brilliantly from the bench, delivered the final pass to his fellow replacement Karne Hesketh and the rest was history.

Whatever else happens in this World Cup, we have witnessed something incredibly special.

The scorers:

For Japan:
Tries: Leitch, Goromaru, Hesketh
Cons: Goromaru 2
Pens: Goromaru 4

For South Africa:

Tries: Louw, B du Plessis, De Jager, Strauss

Cons: Lambie 2, Pollard

Pens: Lambie, Pollard

Yellow Card: Oosthuizen

Japan: 15 Ayumu Goromaru, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Male Sau, 12 Craig Wing, 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.
Replacements: 16 Takeshi Kazu, 17 Keita Inagaki, 18 Hiroshi Yamashita, 19 Shinya Makabe, 20 Amanaki Mafi, 21 Atsushi Hiwasa, 22 Harumichi Tatekawa, 23 Karne Hesketh.

South Africa: 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 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Fourie du Preez, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 JP Pietersen.

Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant Referees: JP Doyle (England), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)

by Ben Coles in Brighton

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