On Saturday, hosts Japan stunned Ireland 19-12 in an extraordinary upset to win their second match of the Rugby World Cup 2019, putting themselves in pole position to reach the knockout round for the first time.
The Japanese team came from behind at the stadium with Kenki Fukuoka’s second-half try and Yu Tamura’s boot beating a side recently ranked the world’s No.1 in a shock to earn their victory over two-time world champions South Africa at the World Cup 2015.
As they stunned world rugby then, to win this time behind an uproarious home crowd with a lot of focus on the first Rugby World Cup of Asia was arguably more significant.
Lappies Labuschagne, the captain of Japan, said that it was difficult to put into words what the victory meant to them and showed his thanks to those who came out to support them.
The hosts Japan were utterly worthy winners and, having admitted their nerves got the better of them in the 30-10 win over Russia, there was no repeat 8 days later. They came flying out of the blocks. After Kotaro Matsushima was a bounce away from getting his fourth try of the Rugby World Cup, Tamura missed an easy penalty to turn 10 minutes of impressive phases into 3 points. He’d barely put a foot wrong after that.
When Ireland got a foothold, their plan became obvious; attacking off the kind of forward pressure which smashed the Scots and testing the Japanese team with the clever array of kicking from five-eighth Jack Carty.
Japan, having never got within 16 points in 7 previous defeats to Ireland, came back at it after the break with more attacking play and Ireland looked like they were hanging on when their penalty count inched up.
Shell-shocked, the men of Joe Schmidt were making simple errors and Fukuoka, a last-minute addition after an injury to Will Tupou, sensationally gave the hosting team the lead with 20 minutes to go with Tamura slotting over his most difficult kick of the match to make it 16-12.
It was never a case of simply hanging on for Japan because they finished the match deep in the Irish half to top Pool A with 2 wins from 2 and open up a group Ireland were heavy favorites to top.