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Rugby World Cup: Japan's wait to rock World began with Ravenhill win

By Michael Sadlier

Published 22/09/2015

Japan played Zimbabwe at Ravenhill in 1991
Japan played Zimbabwe at Ravenhill in 1991

It was almost a footnote really in the grand scheme of things but, yes, Ravenhill as it was then known, was the place 24 years ago where Japan tasted their only previous World Cup win prior to last Saturday's astounding result against South Africa.

Zimbabwe - neighbours of the Springboks - were the opposition that week day back in October 1991 and this was the game to determine who would prop up the pool from which Ireland and Scotland had, naturally enough, qualified for the last eight with the men in green's dramatic exit to Australia less than a week away.

And Belfast's introduction to the Rugby World Cup, in only its second tournament, was a high scoring affair at which a pretty decent crowd, including local schools admitted free, got plenty of action to savour with the Japanese winning 52-8 and scoring nine tries while conceding two to their lacklustre opponents.

In fact, this game - held on a Monday - was the last one before the quarter-finals began that weekend and how the Japanese cut loose to consign Zimbabwe to the pool's basement.

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By half-time they had built up a 16-4 lead (tries back then were worth four points) and had already crossed the Africans' line twice through tries from Masami Horikoshi and Yoshihto Yoshida with Takahiro Hosokawa converting one and adding two penalties.

Even though the Zimbabweans opened the scoring in the second half with a try, that was as good as it got for them as the Japanese proceeded to run riot. Katsuhiro Matsuo was first over the line and quickly followed by Yoshida getting his second of the game.

Then, with less than 20 minutes to go, the Japanese bagged another five tries to overwork the Ravenhill scoreboard and take it beyond the 50-point mark.

Matsuo got his second score before Eiji Kutsuki and Ekeroma Luaiufi also bagged tries. With Hosokawa adding three conversions, the Japanese now led 42-8 with just six minutes left.

But they weren't finished yet. With just two minutes to go, Kutsuki and Matsuo managed to also dot down past the by now thoroughly demoralised Zimbabwean players.

One conversion from Hosokawa ended the rout and allowed the Ravenhill faithful to return home after a thoroughly entertaining, but totally one-sided, first taste of rugby's premier competition.

Nobody really paid much attention to the Japanese back then, but, after last Saturday's drama in Brighton, they sure are now.

Belfast Telegraph

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