Rugby World Cup Kicks Off With Massive Upset

In what commentators are calling the greatest shock in Rugby World Cup history, rank outsiders Japan have beaten the mighty South African Springboks in a 34-32 thriller. Japan’s team, known as “The Brave Blossoms,” kept level with the two-time world champions to win with an 84th minute try by Karne Hesketh. The magnitude of the upset can be judged by the bookies’ odds — the Springboks were 500/1 favorites to win the match. Japan’s coach, Eddie Jones, told the Sydney Morning Herald of his disbelief.

“Japan beating South Africa? I had to look at the scoreboard at the end just to see if it was true or not.”

This is the first Rugby World Cup match that Japan has won since 1991. Japan has long been a World Cup crowd favorite, with many rugby fans watching their steady and encouraging development over the years that they have been in the competition. Japan has long occupied the role of “plucky loser,” with rugby commentators consistently praising the generally winless side for their courage, determination, and tenacity. It looks like that tenacity has finally paid off in spectacular fashion.

The sheer unexpectedness of the win is difficult to do justice to. Japan has only ever had one win in their entire world cup history. Rugby followers had been impressed with their performance in the previous world cup, with many tipping that they might break their drought of victories and secure a modest improvement in their group placings this year. What absolutely nobody expected was that Japan would trounce one of the premier teams of the competition, who most rugby tipsters were predicting would romp home with in excess of 20 points to spare.

According to the Guardian, however, Japan’s captain, Michael Leitch, wasn’t surprised at all.

“We came out here to do a job and, like I said, we have been training for this for that past four years. I know the whole world is surprised, but in our camp we knew we could do it.”

On top of being one of the biggest upsets in Rugby World Cup history, the game was a classic nail-biter, with scores practically level all the way through a hard-fought battle of attrition. In the final minutes, Japan had the opportunity to take an easy penalty and draw the game. With characteristic bravery, the Blossoms opted to play on into extra time, staking everything on an aggressive pursuit of one last try. This kind of aggression and courage has long made Japan a popular crowd favorite among the fans, and this time it’s paid off in spectacular fashion.

Even at the time of writing, it’s still quite difficult to take in. So just to be clear: Japan have beaten the Springboks in the Rugby World Cup.

[Picture via Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images]