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Rugby World Cup moments: Japan shock the world

In one of the all-time great Rugby World Cup moments, the upset that Japan inflicted on South Africa in the 2015 tournament in England is up there as one of the best.

Few would have given the Brave Blossoms a chance of taking down the Springboks but the underdogs did just that, in the electric atmosphere of the Brighton Community Stadium on 19th September 2015.

WhatRugby Union World Cup
WhenFriday 8th September - Saturday 28th October 2023
How to watchITV
OddsNew Zealand 11/4, France 3/1, South Africa 7/2, Ireland 9/2, Australia 10/1

Boks were ready for title challenge

With great strength in depth and a team littered with giants, South Africa were being tipped as title contenders once again heading into the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

In a pool that consisted of South Africa, Scotland, Japan, Samoa and the USA, the Boks were firm favourites to finish top of the group.

Heading into the first game of the competition for both sides, South Africa were ready to set the tone for the remainder of the tournament and put a marker down against Japan on the south coast.

Boks off to a strong start

Scoring the first try of the game through Francois Louw, the Boks got off to the start they would have wanted in front of the 29,290 supporters in attendance.

Japan had taken the lead thanks to a penalty from full-back Ayumu Goromaru but the Springboks struck back in the 18th minute with a driving maul lineout that was finished off by Louw.

When Japan gave the Boks a taste of their own medicine, with skipper Michael Leitch going over for the underdogs in the 30th minute on the back of their own driving maul, it was clear to see who the majority of the crowd were cheering for.

The sound was deafening as Leitch touched down to not only get Japan back in the game but also show the South Africans they were ready for the physical challenge in the forwards.

Head coach Eddie Jones had his Japan side leading at half-time and all the talk will have been on keeping the Boks quiet just after the break. It did not go according to plan…

Boks bounce back

Possibly read the riot act by coach Heyneke Meyer, the Boks came flying out the traps in the second half, with lock Lood de Jager scoring a great solo try.

Breaking the line from outside the 22, the lanky second-rower powerfully charged through the Japanese defence before diving over the line.

However, Japan were not going to go down without a fight and South African ill-discipline at the breakdown kept handing the underdogs penalty chances.

Goromaru was imperious with the boot and his penalty in the 54th minute saw the scores all square at 19-19.

With an exchange of penalties to follow to take the scores to 22-22, South Africa again bounced back and it was another great solo try from a forward charging through a Japanese defence that was found wanting.

This time substitute Adrian Strauss stormed through the lines before stepping the final defender and touching down.

Jubilation as Blossoms show their bravery

Not ones to give up at 29-22 down, Japan kept playing their game and were rewarded in the 69th minute with Goromaru scoring a try off a well-worked backline move.

Penalties from the Boks would see the scoreline move to 32-29 with the clock turing red at the Brighton Community Stadium.

When the ball next went dead, the epic contest would be over. Japan continued to knock on the door, with the South African defence looking set to hold out.

Minutes felt like hours for all Boks' followers as the game entered the 84th minute. Japan were not interested in a drop goal or penalty to draw the match; they wanted the win.

The ball was again flung out the backline and suddenly Japan had the numbers, before Karne Hesketh slid over in the corner to the hysteria of the crowd.

Tears from fans and players of both teams followed, after a match that would go down in Rugby World Cup history. South Africa 32-34 Japan.

Not the fairytale ending for either side

After the heroics of Brigton, Japan were unable to follow up their performance against the Boks, as they suffered a 45-10 defeat to Scotland in their second game in Gloucester.

Japan would go on to beat Samoa and the USA but Scotland’s thrilling 36-33 win over the Samoans at St James’ Park in Newcastle would take Vern Cotter’s side through to the quarter-finals at the expense of the Brave Blossoms.

As for South Africa, they recovered from the shock of their defeat in Brighton to eventually reach the semi-final, where they were edged out 20-18 by eventual winners New Zealand.

The Boks would end the tournament with a win against Argentina in the third-place playoff and would get their revenge on Japan four years later.

The two nations met in the quarter-finals of the 2019 World Cup on Japanese soil but there would be no repeat for the hosts, as the Boks ran out 26-3 winners in Chofu.

South Africa would go on to beat England 32-12 in the final to be crowned world champions for the third time in their history.

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