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Rugby World Cup: Japan's shock victory was sport at its brilliant best

By Steven Beacom

The joy of it all. The best kind. Unexpected. Pure. Glorious. And not just for the heroic Japanese players who sank to their knees in celebration after pulling off one of the biggest shocks in sporting history.

Or their delirious fans, leaping around in the stands at the Brighton Amex Community stadium, crying in disbelief and laughing uncontrollably in equal measure.

Japan's stunning and spectacular 34-32 success over mighty South Africa in the Rugby World Cup on Saturday was a win for EVERYONE.

Well, apart from the vanquished of course, who weren't just supposed to beat their inferior opposition, they were heavy, heavy favourites to batter them.

This was going to be a rout with the Springboks, two times winners of the World Cup and a decent bet for a third, running in try after try against a minnow of the game, who had not won a match in the tournament since 1991.

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Thankfully, Japan's players and their inspirational Aussie coach Eddie Jones weren't listening.

They turned what we thought would be a run of the mill rugby story into a thrilling, nail-biting fairytale starring the boldest and most fearless of underdogs.

By the end of a classic encounter, Japan weren't just being cheered by their own...they were being roared on by millions viewing on television around the globe, many who wouldn't know a scrum from a line-out!

This was sport at its breathtaking best. This was David downing Goliath. This was epic stuff. This was what we love to see.

It wasn't just the fact that Japan won, it was the way they won. They dared to dream and the dream came true in unforgettable fashion.

With the clock ticking into overtime, Japan trailed 32-29. Camped near the South African line, they were awarded penalties on two occasions offering them the chance to secure the three points that would give them a famous, fabulous draw.

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Forget it. Japan wanted more. They wanted the lot. Win or bust. They refused the penalties and instead opted to go for the try. You desperately wanted their adventure to pay off, but at the same time wondered if they had blown their chance to become more than gallant losers.

The watching world - South Africa apart - were urging Japan on as if they were hometown heroes.

Go on. Do it, we pleaded. And do it they did, stretching the South African defence with the skill and nerve of seasoned winners during an exhilarating few minutes of overtime before Karne Hesketh found the space and speed to run a sensational score into the corner.

Japan 34-32 South Africa.

The conversion was missed. No matter. The game was won. Japan had produced the greatest upset in the history of the World Cup and the celebrations began.

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Boy, did these underdogs deserve their day in the Brighton sun.

On Saturday they were the team that simply would not lie down, would not give in, would not be beaten.

In the first-half, a try from their outstanding captain Michael Leitch put them 10-7 in front, but when the Springboks hit back to lead 12-10 at the break, the assumption was that normal service had resumed and that South Africa would race away with the contest.

This was not a normal day.

South Africa went 19-13 in front. Before you knew it was 19-19 then 22-19 to South Africa and 22-22. Japan would not let go. They stuck to the Springboks like velcro.

In the latter stages Adriaan Strauss bulldozed his way through to give the big guns a 29-22 advantage only for the magical Ayumu Goromaru, who scored 24 points in total, to level the scores with a try and conversion.

With five minutes left, a penalty for the Springboks took them 32-29 ahead, but Japan, remarkable, resilient Japan, would not be denied.

They just kept on coming and coming, playing high quality rugby in the process, to claim the most dramatic triumph the World Cup has ever seen.

As South African coach Heyneke Meyer, who fielded the nation's most experienced Test side ever with 851 caps in the starting XV, apologised to his country for their defeat, the Japanese and just about everyone else rejoiced.

Before this World Cup, Japan's aim was to make those back home feel proud and to generate interest in the sport, with the tournament bound for the Far East in 2019.

Mission accomplished, even if they don't win another match. Mission impossible completed. Well played Japan's rugby team... sport's latest unlikely heroes.

Belfast Telegraph


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