Japan’s already infamous 34-32 victory over the Springboks during the 2015 Rugby World Cup was an amazing achievement, but it is about so much more than the result itself…
1.It proved rugby can have genuine upsets
Since rugby began, the sports international stage has been dominated by a handful of top nations. In fact, in the history of the Rugby World Cup, the biggest upset has probably been seeing France make it through to numerous finals despite seemingly going into the tournament without a hope in hell. The failure to see any genuine ‘giant killing’ moments put rugby several steps behind even the FIFA World Cup where smaller nations have caused a number of upsets.
Japan’s victory over the Springboks has changed all that. Despite the two teams sitting just ten places apart in the World Rugby rankings, the astronomical achievement can only be appreciated by real rugby fans. Contrast this with Ireland’s 50-7 victory over Canada (a team 12 places below) and you realise how difficult it is for smaller nations to beat tier one sides (Japan have only won one World Cup game in the previous 24 years).
2.It showed teams can win playing rugby the right way
Rugby World Cup games can often be incredibly cagey affairs with teams looking to their set piece to help them win games whilst keeping it tight in open play. Instead Japan embraced their small nimble backline and gave them the freedom to play allowing their pacey backs to throw the ball around and score some impressive tries. The game also showed that you don’t have to have a monster pack in order to compete at the set piece.
This was in contract to the Springboks who tried to use their huge pack to batter their way over the line for the most part. Hopefully this result will encourage other teams to select players based on skill rather than size and brute force. There’s no doubting that it creates for a much better spectacle, but it also means that smaller nations will be able to better compete as they won’t be reliant on trying to find 20 stone monsters in the front row.
3.Bravery was rewarded in every way
Before the game had even begun, Japan showed their intention to come out and play the right way. In previous tournaments they had often selected a second string XV to face the bigger nations in the pool, but this time coach Eddie Jones opted to start his best players, and it paid off big time. Here’s hoping that it encourages other teams to select their best side for every game in the hope of causing yet more upsets in the tournament.
The most impressive aspect however was Japan’s decision to turn down a kick at goal and instead go for all or nothing. If Japan had opted to take the kick and draw the game, it still would have been hailed as a magnificent achievement. As it was, they gambled, went for the victory and got the result almost everyone was hoping for. Hopefully their bravery will rub off on other teams who won’t just select the safe option every time.
4.It comes at a key time for Japanese rugby
2015 is an absolutely key time for rugby in Japan. Not only are they competing in the Rugby World Cup, but if they can get themselves sorted then they will have a team competing in Super Rugby next season, whilst they are also preparing to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Add in the Olympics playing host to rugby sevens next year, and 2015 could prove to be a pivotal moment for rugby in Japan.
We’re desperately hoping that the result against the Springboks will kick start the powers that be into some sort of action to get the Japanese Super Rugby franchise moving forwards after it looked like it could be all but over. If they can get this sorted, then who knows what might happen for Japan in 2019. Let’s face it, if rugby can make it big in Japan, then the knock on result could be huge for the sport.
5.It enthralled everyone
It doesn’t matter who you support, or where you were watching the game, but it’s fair to say that every single rugby fan (and even some who have never watched a game before) where absolutely enthralled by yesterdays game. I can honestly say that I’ve never been so nervous, or celebrated a victory quite so emphatically as I did yesterday, even when my own team won. Judging by some of the reactions seen on social media, I certainly wasn’t alone.
Sometimes a game like this one is exactly what a major tournament needs to really kick things off. Far too often, the opening rounds of a World Cup can be cagey affairs, and therefore make it difficult for fans to become too engrossed. This result however is more than enough to get even the most passive of rugby fans fully engaged with the tournament, and ensure that the rest of the World Cup’s matches attract the biggest audience possible.