On this day: Japan shock the rugby world
A try by Karne Hesketh in the final minute helped Eddie Jones’ side end their long wait for another victory in the quadrennial tournament.
The only previous World Cup win for Japan had been in 1991, but their 24-year wait without one – which stretched across 18 games – was ended in spectacular fashion on the south coast.
South Africa, two-time winners of the Webb Ellis Trophy at this stage, held a narrow lead at half-time and, in spite of a bright start by the underdogs, it was expected the Springboks would prove too strong after the break.
It did not prove the case with Ayumu Goromaru producing an accomplished display with the boot and when he converted his own try with 10 minutes left, the score was 29-29 and his own personal tally for the match stood at 24.
A Handre Pollard penalty seemed to have South Africa on course to narrowly avoid a big shock but Japan were not about to go down lightly.
Following a sustained period of pressure, a quick ball found Hesketh on the left flank and he dived over to spark wild and unexpected scenes of celebration at the Amex where the crowd were treated to a huge World Cup shock.
The Japan players soaked up the adulation of the fans at full-time and bowed in front of the main stand, with this one of three wins for Jones’ side during the tournament.
“To be honest I messaged him to say, ‘Well done, mate, well deserved and good luck on the tour’ and I haven’t spoken to him yet." @J0nnyMay on Leicester, Gloucester, Lions, competing for his England place and being challenged by LRZ, writes @heagneyl ???https://t.co/aMh2omsROj
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 19, 2021
It was not enough to secure a first-ever berth in the knock-out phase but the foundations for future success had been laid.
While Jones would move on and take charge of England, successor Jamie Joseph picked up the baton and lead his country into a home tournament in 2019 where they produced two more shocks.
Group wins over Ireland and Scotland – the latter avenging a heavy loss four years earlier – saw Japan reach a maiden quarter-final and despite a 26-3 defeat to eventual champions South Africa, their own campaign and the overall World Cup was deemed a huge success.
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