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World Rugby minnows Japan pulled off the Rugby World Cup’s biggest upset when they beat two time champions South Africa 32-34 in their opening Rugby World Cup match.
Japan could easily have settled for the draw when they were awarded a penalty on full time but instead they threw the dice and went for a scrum which ultimately won them the match.
Karne Hesketh scored a desperate last minute try to stun the Springboks who
led 12-10 at half time.
Japan attacked the Springboks from the first minute in an inspiring performance
in the Pool D opening match in Brighton.
After Ayumu Goromaru scored 24 points including an brilliant try to keep Japan
in the game, Hesketh finally pierced South Africa’s desperate defence in the
dying seconds to claim the famous win.
Japan’s players went on a lap of honour with national flag amid a roars of
support from the 29,000 crowd.
“It’s a fantastic achievement,” said coach Eddie Jones who will leave
the team after the World Cup.
“We worked really hard for this — but look for me personally its right
up there with my best days in the sport,” said the coach who guided Australia
to the 2003 final and was member of the Springboks coaching team for their 2007
World Cup triumph.
South Africa went into the game expecting a big win but Japan were never overawed.
The Asian champions, who will host the 2019 World Cup, had won only one previous
World Cup game against Zimbabwe in 1991. They have drawn two and lost 21.
But they are determined not to be the whipping boys of this tournament.
Japan could well have scored a try in the sixth minute, fullback Goromaru bursting
through the midfield.
However, Goromaru went on his own instead of passing to the player outside
and ran into a Springbok wall.
He made up for this by slotting over a penalty to put the Japanese 3-0 up in
the eighth minute but missed another attempt a few minutes later.
The ‘Boks were rattled and captain Jean de Villiers was angry when fullback
Zane Kirchner kicked the ball out on the full from outside his 22 handing the
Japanese great field position.
The South Africans managed to regain the ball and pressed back.
Some terrific defence kept them out for a while, although Japanese captain
Michael Leitch received a warning for an over zealous tackle on De Villiers,
but eventually they cracked and Francois Louw went over.
Lambie converted for 7-3.
The South Africans spurned a golden opportunity for a second try a couple of
minutes later but a diving Bismarck du Plessis failed to catch the ball and
touch down — his embarrassment accentuated by having the whole thing shown
again as it was referred to the third match official.
Du Plessis’s glaring miss proved even more costly as after sustained pressure
by the Japanese scrum Leitch touched down provoking roars of delight from their
fans and large parts of the neutrals in the 30,000 crowd.
Goromaru converted to give the Japanese a deserved 10-7 lead.
It wasn’t to last long as more powerful pack play ended with Bismarck du Plessis
scoring the ‘Boks second try — Lambie failing to convert gave the two-time
world champions a two point edge at half-time of 12-10.
Goromaru briefly restored Japan’s lead with an early penalty in the second-half.
However, their opponents hit back with a third try soon afterwards, lock Loudewyjk
de Jager breaking a tackle on the 22 and proving an unstoppable force to cross
the line — Lambie converted for 19-13.
The impressive Goromaru added two more penalties to level the match with under
half an hour remaining and at that point with a tacit admission the scrum was
taking a pounding Heyneke Meyer took off his whole front row.
Lambie slotted over a penalty to make it 22-19 but back came the incorrigible
Japanese to level again through the metronomic Goromaru.
The match once gain swung back to the Springboks, however, when replacement
hooker Adriaan Strauss broke through the soft Japanese centre and shrugged off
with disdain Kotaro Matsushima’s tackle to score their bonus point fourth try.
Handre Pollard — who had replaced Lambie — converted for 29-22.
If the Springboks thought that was the final say they were soon to be disabused
of the notion as a scintillating back move saw Goromaru go in and then convert
to bring the scores level once again at 29-29.
Pollard gave the ‘Boks a three point lead — the decision to go for goal being
roundly booed by the crowd — with seven minutes remaining.
Final Score South Africa 32 (12) Japan 34 (10)
Tries – Louw, du Plessis, de Jager, Strauss
Pen – Lambie, Pollard
Con – Lambie (2), Pollard
Tries – Leitch, Goromaru, Hesketh
Pen – Goromaru (5)
Con – Goromaru (2)
Referee: Jerome Garces (FRA)
Zane Kirchner; Bryan Habana, Jesse Kriel, Jean De Villiers (capt), Lwazi Mvovo;
Pat Lambie, Ruan Pienaar; Schalk Burger, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Francois Louw;
Victor Matfield, Lodewyk De Jager; Jannie Du Plessis, Bismarck Du Plessis, Tendai
Replacements: Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen, Eben Etzebeth,
Siya Kolisi, Fourie Du Preez, Handre Pollard, JP Pietersen
Ayumu Goromaru; Akihito Yamada, Male Sa’u, Harumichi Tatekawa, Kotaro Matsushima;
Kosei Ono, Fumiaki Tanaka; Hendrik Tui, Michael Broadhurst, Michael Leitch (capt);
Hitoshi Ono, Luke Thompson; Kensuke Hatakeyama, Shota Horie, Masataka Mikami.
Replacements: Takeshi Kizu, Keita Inagaki, Hiroshi Yamashita, Shinya Makabe,
Amanaki Mafi, Atsushi Hiwasa, Yu Tamura, Karne Hesketh.
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