Following this year’s Netball and Cricket World Cups, the biggie for most Kiwi sports enthusiasts is the Rugby World Cup which begins on 20 September.  Here Roger Childs looks back at notable contests.

Japanese upset

Because we are giving away height and weight we have to play at a furious tempo and we must tackle when South Africa has the ball until our eyes are starry. —Japan’s coach, Australian Eddie Jones

Japan rugby 1 (MIrror)In the 1995 World Cup the All Blacks beat Japan 145-17. Since then their game has come a long way, but prior to the weekend they had had only one match win in a World Cup. This changed in Brighton on Saturday, when they caused one of the biggest upsets in rugby history by beating South Africa 34-32 with a try in the 84th minute. The crowd was delirious as they knew they had seen an historic match. There was scarcely a dry eye in the ground.

A great victory against a strong South African team 

TJapan rugby 2his Japanese side is extremely fit and very well coached. In the last 10 minutes the Springboks were exhausted and the Japanese dominated play. Although the South Africans scored four tries to three, Japan deserved to win. All the team played very well, however full back Goromaru was exceptional with five penalties, two conversions and a beautifully worked backline try. 

It was a great game to watch and both sides contributed to the spectacle. The Springboks had a full strength team except for their best first five, Handre Pollard, however he did come on late in the second half. Did the South Africans expect a cake walk in their first game? Hard to say. 

Missed opportunities

The score was close throughout, but at 29-22 ahead after 65 minutes and a line-out 10 metres from the Japanese line, the game looked won for the favourites. But the Springboks made too many mistakes.

A knock on from that line-out and then a missed opportunity to score in the 72nd minute cost them dearly. Pollard made a wonderful break from 30 metres out and looked as if he would score. He was tackled 8 metres short and Strauss, who had scored an excellent try earlier, went close. Then, with unmarked players on the left, they failed to swing the ball wide. A minute later, again a failure to pass to unmarked players on the right saw a certain try-scoring opportunity squandered. 

Few mistakes and huge commitment

The Japanese won because they made very few mistakes. They 

  • tackled low and hard
  • made one handling error!
  • hooked the ball quickly from scrums
  • lost only one line-out.

Japan rugbyAbove all they played with passion and commitment, and were convinced they could win. After a 75th minute penalty to South Africa, the momentum shifted and the fired-up Japanese team could smell victory. 

With the crowd behind them, they turned down the opportunity to take a draw with a penalty kick and kept pressing inside the Springbok 22. Deep into injury time they swung the ball to left and Hesketh scored the history-making try.