Rugby World Cup
Japan deliver as brave a performance as Rugby World Cup has ever seen
Tom Hamilton
September 19, 2015
Japan shocked the world with a win over the Springboks (video available in Australia only)

This was a triumph for brains over brawn. Japan coach Eddie Jones, the man who helped to guide South Africa to the 2007 Rugby World Cup, had the Springboks' number from the word go. It was the biggest upset in the history of this famous tournament and how fitting for it to go to the nation hosting the next incarnation of this fine competition in four years' time.

You knew something was amiss when the ever-reliable Patrick Lambie sliced his first kick of the second-half; if ever the alarm bells were ringing as South Africa looked stunned by the Brave Blossoms, there was a cacophonous din of panic amid the Boks' ranks. But they can have no excuses. They were in a winning position five times in the match, but never built a lead.

This was as brave a performance as the Rugby World Cup has ever seen, but there were bigger ramifications for the development of the tier-two nations that has been frequently trumpeted by the stakeholders but rarely shown. Japan manifested that improvement inspired by the superb Michael Leitch at blindside, and they also had the reliable Ayumu Goromaru knocking over kick after kick from the tee.

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Japan were heroic - better in every area of the game than their famous counterparts - and the Boks' shortcomings were glaringly obvious. Their game is built around power; their trust is that players from 1-15 they can run straight through a wall rather than jumping over it or running around it. Saturday's match was meant to be a chance for the Springboks to show they could boast ballet as well as bulldozing. Instead they were made to look foolish for turning down five shots at the posts, and the infrequent opportunities for their players to stretch their legs fell to unlikely figures Adriaan Strauss and Lood de Jager.

The expected landslide of tries from their backs never appeared. Bryan Habana did not have a chance to run while Lwazi Mvovo and Zane Kirchner were restricted to cross-field crabbing. Compare this to the wonderful sweeping move that put over the sublime Goromaru, and it was the equivalent of the son beating his father at squash for the first time.

South Africa had real direction only when the ageless Fourie du Preez went off the bench while the replacements gave them a fresh impetus. Teams can struggle in openers, and this resembled South Africa's loss in Durban to Argentina. They were out powered and lacked organisation. They also looked tired.

The team selection pointed to an uncertainty over their first-choice line-up, and they were left woefully underpowered in their back-row with Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen sidelined. The decision to pick Pieter-Steph du Toit at blindside - with hindsight - was ill-judged.

"We can still win the World Cup," was Meyer's reaction at the full-time whistle.

South Africa must now try to get their campaign back on track against Samoa come Saturday. An injured Springbok is a dangerous beast but they were given a lesson in discipline and tactics. They most show they are not fatally wounded if they are to answer Meyer's bold front in dire circumstances.

Japan, meanwhile, now have four days to recharge their batteries and come back down to earth before they face Scotland on Wednesday.

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Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.

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