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Rugby World Cup: six shock results

Japan winger Karne Hesketh scored the winning try against South Africa four years ago © AFP/File / Lionel BONAVENTURE

Tokyo, Japan, Sep 28 – Hosts Japan followed up on their shock win over South Africa in 2015 with a stunning 19-12 upset over highly-fancied Ireland in the Rugby World Cup on Saturday.

While the bigger nations have dominated the eight editions of the Rugby World Cup, there have been some major surprises thrown up since the first edition in 1987.

AFP Sport looks at six of the biggest shocks in rugby union’s four-yearly showpiece tournament:

Japan 19 Ireland 12, 2019 – pool

Hosts Japan produced a stunning upset of World Rugby’s second-ranked team Ireland, who arrived in Asia as one of the favourites for the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Fly-halves Jack Carty and Joey Carbery failed to kickstart an Irish side lacking influential playmaker Jonny Sexton. The home side, led magnificently by flanker Michael Leitch and hooker Shota Horie, starved Ireland of possession and territory for large parts of the match in Shizuoka. Ireland led 12-9 at half-time, but a Kenki Fukuoka try halfway through the second-half pushed the home side ahead and a complete defensive effort saw them hang on for a famous win.

Japan 34 South Africa 32, 2015 – pool

Japan’s victory over the Springboks in Brighton went down not as just the biggest World Cup shock but also the biggest upset in the history of Test rugby union. Coached by the canny Eddie Jones — now in charge of England — the Cherry Blossoms refused to lie down against the two-time world champions for a first World Cup victory since 1991. Full-back Ayumu Goromaru pitched in with 24 points, but spurned a late shot at goal that would have sealed a draw. Instead the ball was worked wide to New Zealand-born winger Karne Hesketh who slid in for an injury-time try that sealed a famous win.

Fiji 38 Wales 34, 2007 – pool

Fiji stunned James Hook’s Wales in Nantes in 2007 © AFP/File / FRANK PERRY

Fiji dumped Wales out of the 2007 World Cup, inflicting a third south sea island embarrassment on the Welsh following defeats to the Samoans in 1991 and 1999. A strong-looking Wales side found themselves 25-10 down at half-time at sun-drenched Nantes. They fought back and Martyn Williams thought he had won the game with an intercepted try, only for Fiji prop Graham Dewes to muscle over for the winning score that set up a quarter-final with eventual champions South Africa.

Western Samoa 16 Wales 13, 1991 – pool

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“Thank heavens we weren’t playing all of Samoa!” was a common catchphrase after Wales’ crushing defeat by Western Samoa at a packed Cardiff Arms Park. The Samoan victory was the first time a leading rugby nation had been undone in a tournament by a rank outsider. The no-nonsense approach of a Samoan side featuring the likes of Brian Lima, Pat Lam, Frank Bunce and Apollo Perelini — who all went on to become household names — upset a battered Welsh team.

Argentina 17 France 12, 2007 – pool

A defensively resolute Argentina caused a huge upset in the opening match of the 2007 World Cup by beating hosts France 17-12, a first-ever pool stage defeat for Les Bleus. The Argentinians led 17-9 at half-time, with France only managing a David Skrela penalty in the second period. Worse was to come for France as they went down to a record 34-10 defeat by Los Pumas in the bitterly-contested third-place play-off.

France 43 New Zealand 31, 1999 – semi-final

France winger Christophe Dominici starred in Les Bleus’ display at Twickenham © FILES/AFP/File / OLIVIER MORIN

Ask a Frenchman about “French flair” and this match is often referenced. Down 24-10 at half-time against an All Black team inspired by the great Jonah Lomu, Les Bleus fought back in an epic second period, outscoring New Zealand 33-7. Christophe Lamaison racked up 28 points for France and wingers Philippe Bernat-Salles and Christophe Dominici scored memorable tries.


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