Japan shocked South Africa to record an historic maiden win over the Springboks in their opening match of the Rugby World Cup on Saturday at the Brighton Community Stadium. The Japanese ran in three tries, including one after the 80 minute mark to seal a famous 34-32 victory over the two-time world champions. The South Africans led 12-10 at half-time only to slump to a defeat that bookmakers valued at 40-1.
Zane Kirchner led the Boks’ first foray down the right, but when the ball was moved inside the Japanese easily overturned it. An excellent run from Ayumu Goromaru in the seventh minute was ended when he was brought down resulting in a penalty. The fullback dusted himself off to put his country in the lead – a sign of things to come.
Francois Louw’s 17th minute try was converted by Pat Lambie to restore order, according to the world rankings, but 12 minutes later the Brave Blossoms’ pack, 100kg lighter than their South African counterparts, pushed their way over for their first try of the day. Michael was the man with ball in hand when the line was crossed and Goromaru made it 10-7 to the Asian side. The Springboks hit back courtesy of Bismarck Du Plessis eight minutes before half-time and while Lambie could not land the conversion, Heyneke Meyer’s men were in front at the break and would have hoped for a more polished performance in the second half.
Goromaru landed a 42nd minute three-pointer to put Eddie Jones’ side back in front but then Lood De Jager broke beautifully from a ruck to sprint straight to the line. Lambie’s conversion made it 19-13 and there was hope that the South Africans would kick on from there. However it was not to be as Goromaru slotted three penalties in the next 15 minutes countered by just one Lambie effort to make it 22-all going into the last 20 minutes.
Meyer’s next move was to replace his entire front row with Tendai Mtawarira and the Du Plessis brothers coming off for Coenie Oosthuizens, Adriaan Strauss and Trevor Nyakane. Strauss was the man of the moment when he broke from a ruck and side-stepped Kotaro Matsushima like a fleet-footed backliner before diving over the line. Lambie was also off and Handre Pollard was on to make it 29-22.
But Jones’ players just would not go away. From a line-out on the left Japan worked the ball beautifully down the right, including a lovely inside pop pass that wrong-footed the South African defence, before Goromaru eventually went over. The fullback converted his own try and the scores were again level with just 11 minutes to play.
In the 72nd minute Pollard came close to scoring a try, but Matsushima tackled him illegally and the substitute got up from the ground to put the penalty over. The Japanese pursued a match-winning try with all their might and when Oosthuizen was shown a yellow card for rough play, they sniffed blood albeit with 80 seconds to play. In spite of being awarded penalties in the dying minutes, Leitch refused to go for the three points to draw the match and his bravery was rewarded when his teammates exploited space and a hole in the Bok defence coming down the near side touch line. Karne Hesketh’s try was not converted but it did not matter as Japan recorded only its second World Cup win in a committed performance that will leave its ranks ecstatic and South Africa embarrassed.
The Japanese will take four log points for the victory while the Boks earn two bonus points for scoring four tries and losing by less than seven.