In South Africa it will become known as Springbok rugby’s darkest hour.


JAPAN (10) 34

Mike Greenaway at the Brighton Community Centre

If this was 1911, the news filtering back to the civilised world that the Titanic had sunk would have been greeted with the same disbelief as this uncanny moment in sporting history. In biblical times, it would have been like hearing that David had slayed Goliath.

In Japan they will hail it as the greatest ever sporting triumph in their history. In the history of the World Cup it will be become known as the hugest upset ever. In South Africa it will become known as Springbok rugby’s darkest hour.

And we thought South African rugby had plumbed its lowest depth when two months ago Argentina beat them for the first time, in South Africa for good measure.

This was nothing short of a disgrace. How could this happen? Simple. The No 13 ranked team in the world taught the once proud Springboks a lesson in passion, enterprise and courage. Brave Blossoms indeed. In return the Boks were indescribably patheric, sadly insipid.

For the neutral observer, it was cracking game of rugby, pure entertainment. The Spirngb ok seeming to be getting ahead, the Jpanese fighting back. Ech time the boks looked liek that had found a catalyst to get theri game going with a try, the jpabs bounced back with interest and in the end were thoroughly derving of their win. In the dying minutes they could have taken an easy penalty goal to draw the game at 32-32, but chose a scrum and eventually scored a famous try that caused a celebration across the rugby word. Everybody loves the underdog.

Eddie Jones, the Japan coach, had said pre-match: “If we get some early points, watch how nervy the Boks get, …” and he was spot on. The Blossoms got braver by the minute and the neutrals in the 30 00 crowd, not to mention a good sprinkling of Japanese fans, got behind the minnows in no uncertain fashion.

The Boks were undoubtedly rattled from the first minute, with mistakes increasibgly creeping in under the pressure, such as kicks going on out on the full, ball turned over at the rucks, and passes being flung away in the face of the ferocious tackling.

A desperate tackle by Zane Kirchner on the flying centre Male Sa’u, just an he was about to offload to the wing saved a certain try ,but the Japanese went a head with a penalty by fullback Ayumu Goromaru.

For the thousands of Bok supporters that had travelled down to Brighton from London, it was hoped that sanity was restored in the 20th minute when a penalty was kicked to the corner and the inevitable Bok forward rumble to the line produced a regulation try for Francois Louw.

The Bok showed signs of hitting their stride as their sole hero, the magnificent Schalk Burger, who is in the form of his life in the unfamiliar position of No 8, tried to get the Bok engine firing.

The Japs just kept harrying the Boks and refused to let them settle into their game plan. In the 30th minute they had a try disallowed by the TMO but they were given a penalty and kicked it to the corner and scored from the lineout. The Boks had been given a taste of their own medicine – a try from a line drive from the smallest team at the tournament. Who would have believed it? But the Japanese were just getting started.

The Boks immediately struck back with a score of precisely the same pattern, Bismarck Du Plessis the scorer after a smashing drive to give his side a tenuous 12-10 half time lead.

The Boks needed a catalyst and it seemed to have come in the fourth minute of the second half, just after Goromaru had kicked Japan ahead, in the form of the industrious lock Lood de Jager, who burst through the defence from 30m out and galloped to the poles.

But it was a false dawn. The Japs kept coming and two minutes after De Jager’s score, a Goromaru penalty pulled the score back to 19-13, at which juncture the Bok bench began warming up, and while they were stretching, Gormaru knocked over another penalty to lock it out at 19-19.

The mood in the crowd was reflected by an outbreak of derisive booing when the Boks earned a penalty in the 56th minute and chose to abandon their policy of kicking for the corners in favour of a shot at goal, which Patrick Lambie coolly converted into a 22-19 lead as the game approached the three-quarter mark, at which point Handre Pollard and Fourie du Preez replaced Lambie and Ruan Pienaar.

They had just taken the field when yet another Goromaru penalty sailed between the posts.

Jean de Villiers gathered his troops before the restart and clearly read the riot act, and it seemed to make a difference when replacement hooker Adriaan Stauss scored a try not unlike that of De Jager’s, and Pollard landed the conversion.

The Japs just shook it off and Gormorau’s try in the corner from a swift backline move almost brought the house down, as did his successful conversion effort. Again the scores were level at 29-29.

Again the Boks were booed when they took a shot a goal to gain the lead, but it did not matter, the script had been written in the rugby heavens that the Japanese would come back, and do so with interest.

by Mike Greenaway

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