If this World Cup will be remembered for nothing else, it will most certainly be remembered for a majestic performance given by the Japanese, a victory that one might say surpasses an incredible effort offered by Argentina against a Springboks side that went on to win the 2007 tournament. Yet how did a Tier Two side that had, up to that point, not won a World Cup match in the tournament’s twenty-eight year history manage to do that?
It is clear that the foundation for any victory is built on correct execution of basic rugby skills which, without a doubt, Japan executed to the extreme end of the spectrum. In a similar narrative to Ireland’s near miss against the All Blacks two years ago, Japan showed that beating a major Rugby Championship power is not rocket science by any means. Once a team refrains from becoming overawed by the opposition and adopt a robust, focused, back to basics approach anything is possible.
The key to any victory begins at the breakdown. Often rucking skills and breakdown work can go unnoticed, but its importance cannot be stressed enough. These are the little things such as shifting bodies off the ball, never landing on your back when you are presenting the ball to the scrum half, who then must provide quality passing off the deck. Due to the fact that Japan do not possess the physical power that many Tier One nations can utilise to their advantage, a collective effort by the team labelled as underdogs was crucial.
Although there were positives stamped across the entire Japanese performance against the Green and Gold, perhaps the period that most embodied the values of the attitude and game plan, as well as everything that is great about the sport of Rugby Union, was the match winning try. An attack that started from within their own 22 managed to find its way to the Springboks line using an outrageous array of offloads, direct running and crafty footwork, all supplemented by a sheer determination to find holes in the defence. The havoc at the breakdown was emphasised by an upsurge in penalties conceded by South Africa. A perfectly executed lineout ending in a maul where nearly every Japanese player was involved, giving a classic example of teamwork and everyone running themselves into the ground. Relentless ball retention and recycling through several phases was finally rewarded with a score in the corner.
A word must be said for the Boks, however. Even with a relatively inexperienced team, the number of missed tackles, passivity in the contact area and the deterioration of discipline, particularly in that final quarter, will be of major concern to them. They will be questioning themselves about their work levels at ruck time and how a lineout with a player of Victor Matfield’s stature could not challenge the Japanese throw. The only real comfort for South Africa is the two bonus points which just might see them through their pool.
Whether or not this will affect the ultimate tournament outcome remains to be seen. One thing is certain – Rugby World Cup 2015 is alive and kicking.
Words by Conor Lynott