Rugby World Cup 2019: Hosts Japan pull off shock in Shizuoka to beat Ireland
Four years after beating South Africa in the Miracle of Brighton Japan added Ireland's name to their list of World Cup scalps with a 19-12 win
The Brighton Miracle only hit cinema screens a little over two weeks ago, and yet the sequel has already been written after Japan felled another rugby giant.
Back then, at a football ground near the beach on the UK’s south coast in 2015, the Brave Blossoms beat one of rugby history’s greatest powers, South Africa. It prompted a film starring Temuera Morrison in the lead role of coach Eddie Jones.
This time around? They only went and beat the side who start this tournament as the world’s No 1 ranked side, Ireland. And yet the Irish, like the Springboks before them, four years ago, were unable to halt the Japanese tide.
Whether a film is made about this one, only time will tell. But the Shock of Shizuoka will have lasting reverberations for the sport.
“That [the win over South Africa at the last World Cup] was a great game, but we came into this tournament with a new goal,” Lappies Labuschagne, Japan’s captain for the day, said in his TV interview after the 19-12 win.
“We knew what we wanted to do and we backed ourselves going into this game. We are really happy about this result.”
At which point do we stop considering wins by Japan against rugby’s establishment to be upsets? At which point do we consider them to be outside the elite?
If this World Cup is anything to go by, the sport is booming there.
And, if this World Cup is anything to go by, every World Cup should be played there. Rugby has never known noise like it.
The sound booming from the television screens was like nothing else. Sure, Twickenham, Eden Park, Loftus Versfeld, the Principality Stadium and the rest routinely attract huge, partisan congregations.
But those crowds have certain expectations. They are waiting to be entertained. In Japan, it feels as though supporters of the home sides are hoping for the best, but have few preconceptions or demands.
As in Brighton, there were tears that met the final whistle. Small children who were lucky enough to have match tickets seemed as though they were about to combust as the time ticked down.
And yet it seemed as though some knew to hope for the best – and expect it, too. There were fireworks at the stadium to celebrate the result. Hardly standard operating procedure for a pool match. Clearly, some people believed their was a shock afoot.
Even Jamie Joseph, the coach, admitted that he had to moderate some of his public utterances pre-match, so as not to appear too “cocky”. He was right to be confident.
“We are very proud of the players,” Joseph said. “We had a plan, we have been training for a long time.
“We have been thinking about this game for a while, but obviously Ireland have only been thinking about it for the past six or seven days.
“We had a lot of belief in our gameplan and what we wanted to do. We knew how good Ireland are, and how strong they were.”
Until now, Japanese rugby’s greatest moment had been delivered by a substitute – Karne Hesketh – with a try in the left-hand corner.
History repeated itself as Kenki Fukuoka scored the 59th minute try that put Japan into a lead that they did not give up.
He was the hero twice as Ireland, who had held a 12-3 lead early in the piece through tries from Garry Ringrose and Rob Kearney, looked to salvage a draw late on.
In the 78th minute, Fukuoka made a break to within feet of the tryline. He was pulled up short, but Ireland could find no way back from that distance.
“We knew how tough it was going to be,” Rory Best, Ireland’s captain, said.
“We came in with a gameplan, and felt we were prepared but give credit to that team. Japan played really, really well. They posed a lot of questions, and we didn’t have the answers.”
Updated: September 28, 2019 10:49 PM