A new fan of Japan after Rugby World Cup upset

The South Africa vs Japan game will go down as one of the classic matches in the history of the World Cup.

South Africa v Japan - IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 Pool B
The victory was Japan's first at the tournament since beating Zimbabwe in 1991 [Reuters]

“So how many points do South Africa win by today?” I ask a fellow sports journalist in the press room. “20, 30 points?”. “I reckon 25” he replies. I nod my head in agreement. South Africa are about to face Japan in Brighton at the Rugby World Cup.

South Africa have twice won the Webb Ellis Trophy but came into this tournament on the back of their worst Rugby Championship and arguments back home on player quotas.

But nobody expected them to lose this Pool B encounter. They’d scored at least 45 points in their last two wins against the Japanese and the Brave Blossoms aren’t getting any younger. Their starting 15 was the oldest in their history.

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I’m from Brighton so I was intrigued to see how this football city and stadium could cope with a rugby match. The Springbok fans were certainly out in force and I was expecting it almost to feel like a home game for them before the match kicked off. But I was wrong.

Along with the Japan fans, all other neutrals decided to support the Asian team. There were thousands of white and red flags in between the green and gold shirts in the packed stadium in Falmer.

Even though it took South Africa 18 minutes to get a try, there was still a feeling that it was only a matter of time until they started to steamroll the Japanese. That moment never came and Japan were only 2 points behind at half-time.

I’d been at Twickenham 24 hours before to see England face Fiji. While England were far from impressive they eventually got the expected win. Fiji seemed disorganised and had a bad time with the boot.

These were not the attributes you could say about Japan. They were organised and in Ayumu Goromaru they had a reliable kicker.

South Africa got another two tries early in the second half but Japan remained in touch. And with 10 minutes to go they levelled the game at 29-29. A penalty put the Springboks back ahead by three points and it looked like they might just scrape the win.

But Japan wouldn’t back down, they weren’t going to crumble. They continued to push. They believed they could win. When they had the chance to kick a penalty and earn a draw in the last few seconds they decided to go for the win. They did this not once but twice. And on the second attempt it paid off. Karne Hesketh touching the ball down to record a historic victory. 34-32 to Japan. The crowd went wild. Those neutrals were screaming and cheering. They included me.

As a sports journalist I’ve watched thousands of sports matches and occasions. And sometimes you become detached to the emotion of the moment. But this was incredible. It will go down as one of the classic matches in the history of the Rugby World Cup. It’s Japan’s first win at the tournament since beating Zimbabwe in 1991. Whether Japan can continue to make an impact at this event we’ll just have to wait and see.

But I began the afternoon as a sports journalist, I leave a Japan rugby fan.

Source: Al Jazeera