Japan have ‘rewritten history’

Date published: September 19 2015

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Japan coach Eddie Jones and captain Michael Leitch entered a crammed media room in Brighton to a round of applause after their side had produced the biggest shock in Rugby World Cup history.

Results such as this one do not immediately sink in. The number three-ranked side in the world, defeated by a team without a World Cup win since 1991, when Leitch was three years old. 

Brave Blossoms indeed. Braver than anyone expected, and no one more so than Leitch, the try-scoring flanker who made the gutsiest of calls by opting for glory rather than a draw which was met with a roar from the approving crowd at the AMEX Stadium, sounding more like Tokyo than a town on the English south coast holding its first-ever World Cup game.

"That has got to go down as one of the greatest games in World Cup history," Jones said,

"At our opening ceremony in France last week they showed our history, hadn't won a game for 24 years, and the bloke said "do you want to see that again?"

"I said to the players, 'next time in four years, you want them to able show history where Japan have won big games." Now the history has changed for Japanese rugby.'

"Kids at home in Japan who wanted to try baseball or soccer and be superstars in those sports, now they want to be the next Michael Leitch or Ayumu Goromaru.

"It can change the sport in Japan, because rugby may get the best young athletes which can have an amazing effect on the sport."

If that cannot inspire the young generations in Japan, then what can? Nothing about Japan's triumph was a fluke. This was based on a combination of sensational work ethic and Jones' masterplan, topped off with resolute belief.

"We've been training for this for the last three years. It's very special. It's a very humbling experience," Jones said with a smile that never left his face.

"I had to look at the score at the end and see if it was true. The normal scenario would have been when they went seven ahead that they would have run away with the game. But today we were more than brave.

"We stuck at it, kept kicking penalties, and at the end the call from Leitchy to go for the try when we could have taken the draw… it's just a fantastic result.

"We've worked hard for it. I've coached for 20 years and never worked this hard to prepare this team.

"At the end of this tournament I'm done, I'm getting too old for this. 55… I should be in Barbados watching cricket."

Japan will pray that moment doesn't come for a while. The side's ambitions have by no means been completely met, despite Saturday's stunning 34-32 win over South Africa.

"Our two targets where to make the quarter-finals and to be the team of the tournament. We've made a splash, but have to back it up against Scotland and hopefully we get the crowd support that we had here.

"It was amazing at the end of the game. Even at the end the Springbok supporters were maybe going for us at one stage… maybe not, maybe I'm exaggerating.

"The noise was unbelievable. It was one of the greatest games in World Cup history."

No doubt about that. Zimbabwe now have illustrious company in Japan's collection of World Cup scalps. 

by Ben Coles in Brighton

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