Rugby World Cup
Japanese players react with shock after historic victory against South Africa
ESPN Staff
September 20, 2015
Japan stun South Africa while France too strong for Italy (Australia only)

"Take this moment and remember it for the rest of your lives."

That is what Japan head coach Eddie Jones said to his players in the huddle after they had just beaten South Africa. The Brave Blossoms created history in Brighton, overcoming the two-time world champions 34-32 with an 83rd-minute try to secure the biggest victory in their Test history - and the biggest shock in World Cup history.

There were tears in the stands of the Brighton Community Stadium as the Japanese fans witnessed one of the greatest sporting moments ever seen - there were tears on the pitch, too. Jones said afterwards that he had to check the scoreboard to make sure it was real; his players couldn't quite believe it either.

"You can't imagine something like that because it's so special. It was amazing," said Karne Hesketh, Japan's match-winning hero. "The whole crowd was behind Japan. When South Africa gave a penalty and we decided to go for it, that's when we finally got their respect."

But it wasn't just the Springboks' respect that Japan earned. Their never-say-die attitude changed the crowd's allegiance throughout one of the most intense, enthralling games of rugby ever seen. South Africa's national anthem reverberated around the stadium before kick-off, but the cheer that met Hesketh's last-gasp try made it sound like a whisper. Shota Horie could barely put his emotions into words when facing the media afterwards.

Japan celebration
Japan celebration© Steve Bardens - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images
'I couldn't believe the scoreboard' - Jones
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"The best moment," hooker Horie said of his team-mate's defining try, wrestling a supersized grin as he did so.

While the majority will consider this result a monumental upset - this was against the most experienced South Africa XV of all time - for Japan, it marked the fruits of four years' hard labour. Coach Jones, who holds lofty ambitions of reaching the quarterfinals in England, has completely changed the way Japan thinks about its rugby.

Full-back Ayumu Goromaru, who scored 24 of Japan's 34 points against Heyneke Meyer's side, said: "We've been going through the toughest training in the world for this past four years to make history.

"I'm glad we've managed to not only surprise our own fans back in Japan but also fans across the world. I even dreamt [about the game] and wondered if I were going to be able to take kicks being so nervous, but once I went into the game it was actually enjoyable."

And while there were celebrations on Saturday night - this was Japan's first World Cup victory since 1991 after all - attention had already turned to their second Pool B match on Wednesday, against Vern Cotter's Scotland.

"We're only a game in at the World Cup," Goromaru added. "We're aiming for the quarterfinals and there's the Scotland game in four days' time. We'll prepare properly."

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