The recent exploits of the Welsh and Japanese teams at the Rugby World Cup have helped prove why we all love the sport so much.
Despite being world’s apart, their victories over England and South Africa have been a delight for neutrals around the world, and have helped to really spark the 2015 Rugby World Cup into life for very different reasons.
For Wales, defeating their oldest rivals England is always rightly celebrated, but this result was so much more. Not only did they defeat the hosts in their own back yard (Twickenham), it also put them in pole position to qualify from the so called ‘Pool of Death’. Not only this, but they did it with a monumental injury crisis mounting in the background.
Having already lost key players like Jonathan Davies, Leigh Halfpenny and Rhys Webb before the tournament even kicked off, they then had to deal with a mounting casualty list during the game at Twickenham which saw a makeshift backline not only hold their own, but actually outplay England in the final quarter.
Their victory at Twickenham spoke volumes of Welsh heart and desire. To not only adapt to a mid-game injury crisis that would cripple most sides, but to battle back from 10 points down under such circumstances. These are the kinds of moment that will have even the most ardent of neutral rooting for the underdog as Wales produced a performance even Rocky would have been proud of.
It’s also important to remember that as a nation of just over three million people, Wales continue to punch well above their weight on the international stage. In contract England’s population is around the 53 million mark (17.6 times as many).
The story of Japan however is even more pertinent as despite a population of 127 million (2.5 times that of their opponents South Africa), they were rank underdogs against the most experienced Springbok side to ever take to a rugby field.
Those in the know will understand that for the Brave Blossoms to have even stayed within touching distance of the Springboks during that game was some feat. To then go on and claim a famous victory is something else altogether, whilst the manner of the eventual victory is even more impressive.
Rather than simply settling for a draw (which still would have been the most impressive result in Japanese rugby history), they instead took a gamble which produced a result that resonated around the world and had every neutral on their feet when the final whistle went.
In fact, the result had such a profound effect on the rugby nation that a few days later in a bar in Cardiff, I witnessed neutrals enthusiastically supporting Japan as they tried to repeat the feat against Scotland. Although they couldn’t maintain the performance level, there’s no doubting that the Brave Blossoms have had a profound effect on rugby supporters from around the globe.
It is these kinds of results against the odds that make rugby such an incredible support, and help to bring rival fans together as one as they cheer on the underdog, no matter what the permutations may be for their own side, and this is exactly why I love rugby.