One things is for certain, after Japan sent a tsunami-sized shock wave reverberating through this World Cup, Vern Cotter won’t have to worry about complacency creeping into his Scotland squad ahead of Wednesday’s match in Gloucester.
That was the biggest single upset in World Cup history bar none. Only four teams have ever beaten the Boks in the World Cup, so Japan can add their name to those of Australia, England and New Zealand, illustrious company. Remember too that prior to yesterday’s result Japan had won exactly one match in World Cup history, and they have been to every one of them. These heroics came from a nation that conceded 145 points to New Zealand in the 1995 World Cup. “Chapeau” to Eddie Jones and his team of coaches.
Their one win came in 1991 and the opposition was Zimbabwe. Yesterday’s African opposition is a much bigger beast in the rugby jungle.
After Fiji’s heroics on Friday there was a feeling that some of the second-tier nations have closed the gap. The result flattered England. Fiji were competitive throughout and would have been closer still with an accurate goal-kicker.
In yesterday’s match Japan went one better and thoroughly deserved their win. Every time South Africa put some space between themselves and the Brave Blossoms on the scoreboard the Asian side hitched up its kimono and struck straight back, aided and abetted by some hopeless indiscipline from South Africa.
Japan played so fast that you wondered if the tape had been speeded up. We expected that. What surprised us viewers and the Springboks was the sheer physicality that Japan brought to the contact area and the pinpoint accuracy of everyone from 1 to 23. For every dropped pass from the Japanese there were half a dozen unforced errors from the men in green. That was why Japan felt able to run through the phases at the very end, confident that their skills were up to the task of holding on to possession long enough for a hole to appear in the Springboks’ line – and they weren’t disappointed.
Japan play quickly, they play smart rugby and they are very fit. In broken play they kick the ball downfield rather than into touch for two reasons. Firstly they are not very competitive on the opposition’s ball, although they win most of their own throws, and secondly they don’t want to give any team the chance to set up a rolling maul which they struggle to stop.
When South Africa did catch and drive in the second half, Japan stood off and sent men around the back to tackle the ball carrier at the back – all within the laws because Victor Matfield had passed the ball back.
As far as Wednesday’s fixture goes, Japan beating the Springboks was not necessarily a bad thing for the Scots. They now know exactly what to expect. The Japanese have a four-day turnaround and they must be tired after their exertions.
Finally, from a psychological perspective there must a voice inside every Japanese head that is whispering “job done”. They are hosting the 2019 Rugby World Cup and arrived here with the express intention of making the rugby world sit up and take them seriously. They have undoubtedly done that much.