29 Sep 2019

RWC: 'Ireland help make history but not as they planned'

7:02 am on 29 September 2019

The great Irish centre Brian O'Driscoll summed it all up in one sentence; "the mood of the nation has shifted in 80 minutes." He was talking of Ireland, of course.

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Photo: RNZ / Joe Porter

Some 9500 kilometres away, Japan was bursting with pride. Japan's Brave Blossoms "stun world number 2", shouted Japan Today. It went on to say that coach Jamie Joseph said the team would have to play the "game of their lives to win". They did.

The upset result reverberated around the world, possibly even louder than the 2015 shock win over the Springboks in the UK. At least then, neither side was playing on home soil, in front of passionate fans and hosting the World Cup.

The BBC said that Japan had pulled off one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history.

"Not since Japan's win over South Africa four years ago in Brighton has rugby witnessed a result that will resound around the world in the way this one will,' said the BBC.

"This was not a result borne of Irish indiscipline or stage fright, but of a truly stunning Japanese performance in front of a cacophonous crowd that lifted their side with a stunning noise that greeted every metre gained, tackle made and turnover won.

"It is a result that will, regardless of what happens in the next six weeks of rugby, leave a legacy for generations to come, and will send rugby into a new stratosphere of popularity within the country."

The Irish Times described at as "misery in the heat for Ireland" but a dream result for the Cup. It was meant to be a fun match against the hosts, tight for 60 minutes or so, then to be followed by the team in green running in three tries as the Blossoms wilted. Except it was never that. The game, as the Irish Times describes it, had become threatening, a real battle - and eventually a retreat.

"What we had imagined - a mass green invasion, an Irish charm bombardment, a few lusty rounds of The Fields of Athenry as Ireland put the hosts away in the final quarter - suddenly seemed fanciful. This was Japan experienced for the first time as somewhere foreign and hostile and indifferent to the need of her visitors."

Japan's wing Kenki Fukuoka (C) breaks away and carries the ball  during the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Japan and Ireland at the Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa in Shizuoka on September 28, 2019.

Japan's wing Kenki Fukuoka breaks away and once again Ireland were playing catch-up in a match that caused a massive upset victory for the hosts. Photo: AFP

Instead, the Japanese had come to play their game. "There are intimations of Brighton - the miracle of four years ago,with the audacity, the sense of an on-the-edge- rugby country with a strange and unique affinity for the sport, suddenly electrified by their talent for hardwiring into a brand of rugby that is impossible to recreate on the training ground. It's what the world had come to see: Japanese rugby bursting onto the world stage again."

The Irish Examiner is a little more succinct; "Ireland help make history," reads the headline, "but not as they planned."

It goes on, Ireland "came to this World Cup to make history. They've achieved that." Ouch.

The Irish Independent points out that Ireland have never beaten the hosts of a Rugby World Cup, and that uneviable record continues.

"We were warned. Think back to the Brighton Miracle when Japan stunned South Africa at the last World Cup," it says.

The Irish Independent points out that Jamie Joseph had been preparing the Brave Blossoms for the match against Ireland; in contrast, Irish coach Joe Schmidt seemed to have spent his time preparing Ireland for its opening match with Scotland.

Across the Irish Sea, there is nothing Fleet Street loves more than a good defeat.

The Daily Mail pointed out that the Japanese victory was a SHOCK, it was a MASSIVE upset and Japan shocked the GLOBE. Or capitals to that effect.

"What a win. What a day for rugby and what a glorious triumph for Japan. This has ignited the World Cup. Jamie Joseph's men put on a complete performance. They were relentless in defence, razor sharp with ball in hand and they ran Ireland off the park."

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Fans were ecstatic at the result. Photo: RNZ / Joe Porter

The Guardian said the noise was so deafening on the final whistle it surely wobbled Mt Fuji. It partly puts the result down to the sapping effects of the heat and having played Scotland just days before. "Ireland, used to slower-paced matches played on longer grass and in colder weather, felt energy sap away."

The Times said: "Incredible, totally deserved, one-way traffic. Japan have beaten their win over South Africa in 2015 because this was sporting murder. Ireland were never in it, and under the fantastic Japanese defence they hardly even existed in the second half.

"Such courage, such attacking rugby, such compensation for lack of weight, such a boost for the hosts. Ireland can still qualify but only if they can erase the memory. There will be no erasing memories for any Japan follower and any neutral. They will live forever."

Closer to Japan, Hong Kong's South China Morning Post highlighted the victory saying the "Shizuoka Shock" was equivalent to the "Brighton Miracle" of 2015.

Singapore's Straits Times is much more used to covering football in depth but even it gave prominence to the upset.

Japan's Asahi Shimbun gloried in the win, although it was second to the sports story, "only 300 more days until the Tokyo Olympics kicks up in style". And why not; when you are winning at rugby and hosting the Olympics, who can quibble.

It told its readers that "while there are clear differences in rugby between the top tier teams and the other nations in the World Cup, Japan has now pulled off an upset over a team considered a possible title contender in its second straight World Cup."

Not only was this a huge Rugby World Cup win, to rank alongside the 2015 victory over the Springboks, but it is a complete reversal of results in the seven tests played between the two nations. Until tonight Japan had never beaten Ireland.

In 2017, the two nations played two tests. Ireland won both - 55-20 and 35-13, with the latter match being played at the same venue as tonight's victory.

Japan have been on the receiving end of some lopsided beatings. In 2000, they conceded more than 70 points losing 78-9 at Lansdowne Road, Dublin.

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