TOKYO, September 24- Japanese rugby fans were dejected but defiant after the Brave Blossoms were thrashed 45-10 by Scotland, four days after their stunning World Cup win over two-time champions South Africa.
Japan’s 34-32 ambush of the mighty Springboks was the biggest upset in tournament history, providing a timely boost to national spirits and easing fears the country could lose hosting rights to the troubled 2019 World Cup — but their bubble was burst by Scotland.
The Japanese government’s decision to scrap plans for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic stadium amid growing public anger over costs left bemused rugby officials looking for a new venue for the final.
“Nobody thought Japan could win against South Africa — I cried,” 44-year-old hospital worker Saori Kawase told AFP at a public viewing area where more than 400 people gathered to watch the Gloucester game.
“This is such a shame,” she added after Scotland ensured lightning did not strike twice. “I thought they could win in the first half. Japan will have to really play well in the next games against Samoa and the United States.”
Kawase’s friend Akiko Kikuchi lamented Japan’s lack of discipline.
“The Japanese team made too many mistakes,” she said glumly. “I thought we would come back in the second half.”
Other fans refused to be downbeat about the result, backing Japan to make the last eight of the competition.
“The chances that Japan will still reach the quarter-finals are 100 percent,” said local city office employee Yuichi Akashi. “It’s a pity but Scotland played very well. They’re one of the top teams in the world after all.”
Sushi chef Taka Inamoto insisted Japan coach Eddie Jones would have his players firing for their final two group games.
– ‘Inner samurai’ –
“Eddie will unleash the inner samurai,” said the 42-year-old. “They were tired today but they still have a great chance. They have to believe.”
Local newspapers, where sports pages are normally dominated by how Japanese players are faring in Major League Baseball or European football, on Wednesday ramped up their enthusiasm for the oval-ball game, still a relatively minor sport in Japan.
“Prove it wasn’t a fluke!” the Nikkan Sports daily blazed across its pages in a headline, referring to Saturday’s historic win, while the Tokyo Shimbun boldly predicted: “(Japan) are about to stir up another big splash to shock the world.”
But despite the wave of optimism, ultimately it proved too big an ask for Japan with such a short turnaround after their heroics against South Africa.
People who confessed they knew little about rugby before that game watched avidly on Wednesday.
“I did not know the Japanese national team was so strong,” said Sachiyo Kita, a Tokyo office worker. “I usually have little interest in sport.”
Japan rugby shirts have also been selling out quickly at sportswear shops and also topping the sales charts at online shopping sites.
Staff at Tokyo sports bars had a bumper midweek night, although most fans were drowning their sorrows after the match finished a little after midnight local time.
Japan had only previously won one World Cup match, against Zimbabwe in 1991, before Saturday’s astonishing result. But despite defeat against Scotland, Japanese fans were largely keeping the faith.
“We can beat Samoa and the United States for sure,” said Kaori Iwahashi, a 34-year-old florist. “We believe. We have to believe.”