Prior to what proved to be Japan’s final game at the Rugby World Cup, RNJ was asked to write a piece for Rugby Magazine.
The latest edition goes on sale today in Japan and this piece is included in Japanese. Here is the original English version that the magazine have kindly allowed us to print.
Prior to leaving Japan for England and the Rugby World Cup, Brave Blossoms coach Eddie Jones said his team had two goals.
“We want to make the quarterfinals and we want to be remembered as the team of the tournament,” he said. With one game to play, the first goal is still a possibility, the second a certainty.
There are very few people associated with rugby who won’t remember where they were on Sept. 19 when the Brave Blossoms beat the Springboks.
Joel Stransky, whose drop goal won the Rugby World Cup final for South Africa in 1995, described the win as “not just the greatest upset in rugby, but one of if not the greatest upset in sporting history.” It was quite simply a result that shocked the world.
The tears of joy in the media tribune from the Japanese journalists, the absolute jubilation from the fans who had travelled from the Land of the Rising Sun, the amazing support from the neutrals in the crowd and the utter disbelief from the Springbok fans -who showed superb sportsmanship after the game congratulating every Japanese fan they met – told its own story.
On a personal note, I received messages from friends around the world – some of whom wouldn’t know one of a rugby ball from another – congratulating Japan on the win.
So why did the win cause such a commotion? After all it was just a game of rugby.
For those who weren’t great followers of the game – many of whom are now fans judging by the TV figures in Japan – it was the whole concept of David beating Goliath.
Here was a side dwarfed in centimeters and kilograms knocking over one of the most powerful, physical sides in the world. A side that had won just once at the World Cup beating a two-time champion, who had the best win-loss record in the history of the tournament. The side that had a Hollywood movie made about them when Stransky helped them win the Cup.
For those that follow the game closely, it was the manner in which Japan won.
OK, the Springboks weren’t at the top of their game, but they weren’t allowed to be by a rampant Japan side. This was no flukey win. Japan outplayed and out-thought South Africa, thanks to the Japan Way.
Jones and his coaching team have over the years developed a style of play that plays to Japan’s strengths, and on the day South Africa simply had no response.
The bravery and discipline shown by the team and the self belief were amazing. And of course there was that decision by captain Michael Leitch at the end to go for the corner rather than take the easy option and kick for goal and settle for a draw.
Time and time again I have had fans, journalists alike tell me how much they enjoy watching Japan play.
“They play the sport like it is supposed to be played,” is the common theme.
And by that they mean, a team that wants to keep the ball in play; that wants to move opponents from side to side as they look for a gap; a side that tackles and tackles and tackles; and as the wins against South Africa and Samoa proved a team that keeps it discipline.
“The Japan Way encompasses the style of play, the philosophy, the preparation and selection of players,” said Jones. “The whole point about the Japan Way is not having excuses and finding ways to have a competitive edge. Japanese players are small so we have to find a style of play and a way to prepare that makes that disadvantage an advantage.”
The Japan Way also means Japan have to be fit, fitter than any other team.
Perhaps the only negative comment about Japan came prior to the Brave Blossoms’s second game, when Jones claimed his side were much fitter than Scotland.
The Scots were upset and said the game would prove which side was fitter.
The result certainly showed Vern Cotter’s team – which was playing its first game of the tournament won in terms of points scored, but the manner in which Japan played for 60 minutes – having had just three days rest after beating the Springboks – won the admiration of those from north of the border.
While just about everyone associated with the sport, bar World Rugby and the tournament organizers, were complaining at the ridiculous schedule, the Brave Blossoms kept the party line.
They knew the schedule well in advance and had prepared for it, they said to a man, but at the end of the day they just weren’t good enough.
As Leitch before the tournament started, “We just have to believe in what we’re doing and just go out there and do it.”
And if it is good enough then the results will follow, as the Brave Blossoms proved in Game 3 when they never looked like losing to Samoa.
Jones said after the game that he still didn’t think his side had played to their potential at the tournament. But the first 40 minutes against the Pacific islanders were as good as you could get in a crunch game.
Japan were disciplined and had just the right game plan and had the game wrapped up by halftime.
To some, it was arguably an even better performance than against South Africa, a game that they had gone into with nothing to lose.
Samoa was a game Japan had to win if they were show they are a serious rugby nation (and hopefully they will have backed it up with a win against the United States).
It meant the dream of a quarterfinal spot was still alive and it just underlined what former Suntory Sungoliath center and former Samoa and New Zealand international Alama Ieremia had said before the game.
“Japan are the darlings of world rugby.”
Here’s hoping they remain so.