21 Oct 2019

Japanese fans smile through the tears

5:11 pm on 21 October 2019

Japanese fans were left philosophical after their dream run at the Rugby World Cup while South African fans are now contemplating a semi-final against Wales.

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Photo: AFP and RNZ / Dan Cook

After a stunning run through pool play, where they won all four of their matches, the host nation were beaten 26-3 in their quarterfinal clash with South Africa last night.

While they were unable to pull off another upset, the Japanese team captured the hearts of rugby fans around the world on their unexpected run to the top eight.

South African fans celebrated in a central Tokyo pub after booking their spot in the World Cup semi-finals.

For Japanese fans, hopes of their dream run continuing had been dashed.

Although disappointed, Mark from Tokyo could still manage a smile after his team's defeat.

"Of course, we performed. We tried hard, but it's okay."

Despite their shock loss to Japan at the last Rugby World Cup in 2015, and the host nation's unbeaten efforts in the pool stages, the Springboks were still healthy favourites for the match.

Another fan from Tokyo, Tomi admits the Japanese team were always going to need another special performance to pull off the upset.

"So we know that South Africa is stronger than Japan. It's sad but it's part of the game."

South African fans certainly weren't sad.

Max from Pretoria says his side did what they needed to do.

"Our strength was obviously a bit better. But we were up against their agility and we had to shut that down. That really mattered.

"We knew who their key players were and our team really managed to lock them down. That's how we won."

Still, Japan have made history - upsetting Ireland and Scotland in pool play to become the first Asian team to reach the knockout stages at a Rugby World Cup.

Their entertaining efforts saw the Japanese TV audience more than double from their first to their fourth match - a record shattering 55 million tuning in for their thrilling win over the Scots.

Michael Leitch of Japan struggles to hold a ball during the 2019 Rugby World Cup Japan Quarter-Finals match against South Africa at Tokyo Stadium in Chofu City, Tokyo on October 20, 2019.

Japan lost their first match of the 2019 Rugby World Cup when they came up against the Springboks in the quarter-finals. Photo: AFP

Joseph proud of never-say-die attitude

The Kiwi who coaches the Japanese side, Jamie Joseph was focusing on the positives.

"I'm really proud of the team. Some didn't play in the game and that is what it takes to build a good team.

"Everywhere we look and hear is support.

"In the last five minutes of a test match, we were down - I don't know the score - but I was proud of their never-say-die attitude, their willingness never to lay down. That will help us go forward."

Japan head coach Jamie Joseph.

Japan's performances at the 2019 Rugby World Cup will cement their future in international rugby, coach Jamie Joseph says. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

South African coach Rassie Erasmus had a similar message for the Japanese people.

"To the Japanese public, you can be proud of the way you're hosting this World Cup, you can be proud of the way your team performed. To make the top eight and to top your pool against Tier-1 nations Scotland and Ireland and then perform the way they did against us today - we were nervous at half-time. So, overall, I think Japanese rugby is in a really good space."

The Springboks now prepare themselves for a semi-final showdown with Wales.

The winner of that match then faces the victor of the All Blacks heavyweight clash with England.

With his team now out, Mark from Tokyo had no doubt who he was backing.

"I hope that New Zealand win. New Zealand are like the king; they win all the time. I hope it is New Zealand."

But Springbok supporters are also confident.

And Lazi from Pretoria had a warning for the All Blacks.

"We are coming hard! You guys better be ready because we are coming hard."

As Japan themselves did, fans of the four remaining teams are now daring to dream.

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