The Rugby World Cup threw up one of the greatest moments of sport last Saturday. The expectation by most was that it was going to be one way traffic – after all, it was a game where a nation who had previously won the tournament was up against one of the perceived minnows of the game.
However, the match between South Africa and Japan turned out to be completely unexpected. Japan refused to be bullied by the Boks.
Their scrums were a lesson in what was thought to have been a lost art. The Japanese hooker hooking the ball with the quickest of strikes and getting the game restarted. They did the basics very well, no risky offloads, the breakdown well-managed and the game played at their speed.
There was evidence of the tactical influence of Eddie Jones all over the game, Steve Borthwick’s knowledge of the line out was equally evident and the Japanese players had a belief in themselves. They might have seen the script but they didn’t bother reading it.
They refused to go away, keeping in touching distance of the Boks all through the game. Until with about a minute to go and three points down they won a penalty and the opportunity to draw the game.
A draw against the Springboks – that would have been epic it would have been historic in rugby history. But the Japanese captain didn’t point to the post (although it was reported later that Eddie Jones was screaming from the side lines to take the 3 points) and called for a scrum. Against the Boks. A scrum against one of the teams in the world who pride themselves on that most physical part of the game.
What happened next is well reported and will be remembered as one of the greatest moments in rugby history. Japan won the scrum, created a few phases of well controlled play and scored a try to win the game. They beat South Africa and the rugby world exploded on social media – my twitter timeline was nothing other than praise for the team.
Even J.K. Rowling tweeted “You couldn’t write that”.
The sport of rugby then showed the world those core values which makes the game special. No bleating from the Springboks themselves. Although hurting they acknowledged the effort the Japanese team put in.
The South African fans congratulated their Japanese counterparts and even formed a guard of honour to allow them onto trains ahead of them. They mingled and drank together knowing they had just witnessed something very special.
Eddie Jones threw out a brilliant one liner, “If you are a young child back in Japan watching that you’re going to want to be playing in the World Cup in 2019”.
These are moments which inspire, which can and should grow the game.
That result also caused the match against Scotland on Wednesday to sell out. Sadly, the four-day turn around showed for Japan and they succumbed but not without a massive effort.
The Boks will come back, but Japan will always be remembered for that day in Brighton, turning down the opportunity for a draw and settling for a bit of rugby history but rather making sporting history with a win. Very much the brave blossoms.