Tokyo, Japan, Sep 28 – The Rugby World Cup exploded into life on Saturday as Japan produced one of the biggest upsets in the tournament’s history on home turf, stunning the highly fancied Ireland 19-12.
The Brave Blossoms were magnificent against the Irish, who came into the tournament ranked the best side in the world, and were roared on by a passionate crowd of 47,000 in Shizuoka.
The result throws Pool A wide open, as Japan took a huge stride towards their first-ever quarter-final from a group that also includes Scotland.
In the earlier World Cup game, Argentina got their campaign back on track after an agonising opening loss against France, beating a spirited Tongan side 28-12 with the help of a hat-trick from hooker Julian Montoya.
And South Africa routed Namibia as expected, also bouncing back after their loss to defending champions New Zealand in their tournament opener to record a 57-3 victory.
The Springboks ran in nine tries against their fellow Africans, a mis-match that became even more pronounced when the Namibians went down to 14 men towards the end of the game, the second yellow card of the match.
But it was the Japan-Ireland contest that everyone was waiting for although even the most partisan home fan could not have predicted that the hosts would turn over their illustrious Six Nations opponents.
“We’ve got another couple of games to go but we’ll enjoy tonight I reckon,” grinned Japan coach Jamie Joseph. “We’re very proud of the players… for us, it’s been a great performance.”
Ireland had polished their credentials as one of the tournament favourites by beating Scotland 27-3 in their opener but the defeat to Japan leaves their qualification for the knock-out stages uncertain.
“We’ll not be happy with how we played but we’ll have to dust ourselves down and get better,” said Ireland captain Rory Best.
Coach Joe Schmidt said a few of the offside penalties that went against them “could have gone either way” but hailed the Brave Blossoms for a result that rivals their “miracle of Brighton” win over South Africa in 2015.
“Congratulations to Japan. What a furious, intense effort it was,” said Schmidt.
The Brave Blossoms will now target the Scotland match, the last game of the pool phase, to shore up their route through to a first-ever quarter-final, with their next game against Samoa, on a short turnaround, on October 5.
Scotland were poor by their own admission against the Irish and coach Gregor Townsend changed his entire backrow for their now critical clash against the Samoans on Monday.
On their showings so far, Japan will fancy their changes against Townsend’s men, who made a litany of errors in their drubbing by Ireland at a rainy Yokohama Stadium.
– Argentina target ‘final’ –
Meanwhile, Argentina’s bonus-point win could prove crucial in the World Cup’s “group of death” that also includes England and France.
As coach Mario Ledesma rang the changes after they went out to a 28-0 lead, Argentina lost some of their momentum and the spirited Pacific islanders fought their way back into the game, scoring two tries and finishing the game the stronger.
Ledesma said they have a “final” against England at Tokyo Stadium on October 5, with Eddie Jones’ side recording two bonus-point wins against the two weaker sides in the group on paper, Tonga and the United States.
Saturday’s final match saw the Springboks take on their African rivals Namibia at the City of Toyota Stadium.
South Africa were hoping to bounce back after their opening day loss to treble-chasing New Zealand and racked up a sizeable score against Namibia, the lowest-ranked team in the tournament.