Japan 3, South Africa 26: Brave Blossoms' Rugby World Cup fairytale ended by savvy Springboks

Yutaka Nagare, Lomano Lemeki, Ryohei Yamanaka, Yu Tamura and Fumiaki Tanaka of Japan are dejected at the final whistle
Yutaka Nagare, Lomano Lemeki, Ryohei Yamanaka, Yu Tamura and Fumiaki Tanaka of Japan are dejected at the final whistle
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It was fun while it lasted but in the end the Japan fairytale was not to be as a savvy and slick South Africa side saw it home at Tokyo Stadium to set up a semi-final showdown with Wales.

But let’s go back to the fun part before talking about what was, in the end, a pretty average game.

What an occasion it was. The atmosphere surrounding the game was an absolute pleasure to experience. A sombre and respectful one-minute silence was observed again for the devastation and loss of life from Typhoon Hagibis last weekend. A stark reminder that there’s more to life than sport. And boy did those in attendance lap it up.

It remains to be seen how Japan 2019 will be viewed in World Cup history. The typhoon-cancelled matches have been an issue and, in truth, we’re still waiting for a truly tournament-alighting moment but you can’t fault Japan for that.

Their fabulous team bow out with heads held high, if that’s not a back to front way of putting it. Arigato Brave Blossoms, you’ve been magnificent.

But let’s not forget the Springboks here. The two-time world champions showed admirable composure to block out the atmosphere and, despite losing prop Tendai Mtawarira to an early yellow card for a tip tackle, after Makazole Mapimpi got his first of two tries, ruthlessly snuffed out any hope of a repeat of the "Brighton Miracle" of four years ago.

Second-half tries from Faf de Klerk, Mapimpi’s second and Handre Pollard's 11 points took the game away from the hosts and Japan coach Jamie Joseph had no complaints.

"At half-time the boys were a bit down but, at the end of the day, I am just so proud of my team - the courage, the tenacity, the sheer determination. I really must take my hat off to the team,” said the former All Black.

"Secondly, I'd really like to thank the fans. We wouldn't be here if we didn't have the support of the whole country, they have been absolutely marvellous.

"I'm really proud of what we've achieved at the World Cup, we'll accept that, we'll enjoy that a little later on but I'm really disappointed for the players because they gave so much to the country at this World Cup, I'm just a little disappointed.”

Japan captain Michael Leitch was equally frustrated.

“Test match rugby is all about creating opportunities and taking your moments. We had a few opportunities to capitalise on.

"Unfortunately South Africa kept us out there with their powerful set pieces. They had us going backwards,” said the back-rower.

"So congratulations to the South African team. They played their A game and they played it very well, so I wish them all the best of luck for the coming games."

Despite the disappointment of defeat, Leitch reflected with pride on what the Japan team, who topped Scotland’s Pool A and beat Ireland in the process too, have achieved.

"I’m extremely proud of what this team has done,” he said. “Jamie has done an excellent job with the team, and the fans and the country, I think we've done them proud, and to represent Asia and the tier-two countries, I'm sure they will be proud of us as well.

“Japan's only going to get stronger and all the best with the rest of the World Cup.”

To the victors the spoils, though, and Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus was an understandably happy, if relieved man.

“At half-time it was 5-3 and in the end we got one or two runaway tries but this game I think it was more a five, six-point game the margin we got in this game wasn't a true reflection,” said the former Munster boss.

“The first half was very frustrating. I thought we had two or three tries in the first half that were just knock-ons that we didn't score, which could have taken it away from them. But then again the way they defend and the way they scramble just shows the character of their team.

“My team were very determined, I think the substitutes made a hell of a difference, but the Japanese team is well coached and they're tough and they're fit and they fight and they've got great support. At the end of the day we must be satisfied with the win.”

You can’t argue with how impressively the Boks got this job done but true contenders for the title?

New Zealand, England and Wales seem more likely but never write off this proud rugby nation.

"We want to try and go all the way,” added Erasmus. “Now we've got Wales. They are ranked higher than us and they got a win against France, we'll start tomorrow on them, but we'll enjoy tonight and we know the next two weeks will be tough."

• Our Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup coverage is brought to you in association with Castle Water