Artists of the Floating World

The first weekend of the World Cup goes down as a huge success.  Well attended stadia full of raucous support, good rugby matches, Ireland looking good – and Japan.  Some are calling it the biggest upset in team sport… ever.  And they’re probably right.  Upsets in modern day rugby are hugely rare.  Even the thought of a supposedly top tier nation like Scotland toppling one of the giants would be fairly seismic.  For Japan to do so is simply out of this world.  What more can be said other than that it was unbelievable.

The victory was spectacular for so many reasons.  For the pugnacious refusal to lie down and be bullied by the Springboks.  Even when the Boks scored a try in the final quarter to amass a seven point lead, which looked to have ended the spirited fight, Japan responded – and spectacularly too.  For the bravery to go for the win rather than kick for the draw (though the kick was by no means a gimme so the draw wasn’t cast in stone).  For the even greater bravery to pass the ball along the gainline to set up the winning overlap.  And for the tactical acumen and cool-headed shrewdness shown in the heat of battle.  Not just in the final denoument, but in killing the ball deliberately (and cycnically!) when South Africa were camped on their line minutes previously.  A try for the Boks in that position would surely have won the game, but Japan had the wherewithal to kill the ball, suck up the three points and leave themselves in a position to go on and win.

But most of all, it was for the sheer skill and technique on view.  Smaller forwards Japan may have, but they showed that the skill of effective rucking is about accuracy and technique rather than big men simply bulldozing into rucks.  They supplied their jinky, pacey backline with a supply of quick ball that was enough to score three tries.  The handling skills in the backline were easily up to the task.

Much had been made in advance of the tournament of the work their scrum coach Marc del Maso has done to bring their scrum from being a shambles, to one of the best in the world.  It came to pass here as they won a scrum penalty in the dying minutes that kept the pressure on the Boks.  As if anyone needed telling, Eddie Jones is clearly some bit of stuff.  And this was his finest ever hour.

Muddy Wulliams made the point that the growth of the Top League in Japan and the benefits of more regular and higher-standard rugby raises all boats. Japan is a very rich country with well-resourced corporations putting money back into the sport – this means teams with such romantic names as Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers, NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes and Coca Cola West Red Sparks. While it would stick in the craw of AIL vets at Shanning and Garryowen, in rugby, money buys good stadia, full-time pros and Eddie Jones. While the status of the Top16 franchise in Japan (due to compete next year) is in flux, with Eddie Jones having thrown his hands up in despair and going to, ironically, the Stormers, its inevitable that it will happen some day. While Japan aren’t likely to become the new Argentina any time soon, they are equally unlikely to go 24 years without another RWC win.

Much like everyone watching we expect, WoC were running around their living rooms as if they were Japanese.  It would be nice to say ‘this is what the rugby world cup is all about’, but it’s not really.  This sort of thing simply never happens.  It made it all the sweeter, the greatest upset in the history of the sport.

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30 Comments

  1. ruckinhell

     /  September 22, 2015

    Fantastic win, watched it in a dingy sports bar in Oslo and everynon-Saffer (even the normally taciturn Norwegians) was going nuts by the end!

    One element of the Japanese performance that was very impressive was their tackling- they almost always went for a low chop and invariably it came off. Once the Saffers built up a head of steam it was almost impossible for them to be brought down but the Japanese did very well to minimise these moments.

    The arrogance and bull headedness of the Boks was their undoing- eschewing taking the points well after the moment when it was clear they couldn’t just smash the Japanese out of the way and refusing to alter their game plan. When boshing it didn’t’ work they simply decided to Bosh better. I couldn’t see Japan doing this to NZ or Oz, who would acknowledge a different plan was needed and adapt on-pitch accordingly. This is no disrespect to the Japanese achievement, which was immense.

  2. On the one hand, I’m delighted that I booked USA vs Japan tickets in the Shed. Should be some craic, my Japan jersey is already in the mail.

    On the other hand, I’m raging that I didn’t have the foresight to pluck for an upset in the workplace match prediction pool. Eejit, I am.

    On the weekend as a whole, I’d actually say England were probably the big losers. Out of the teams tipped to do well they were by far the worst (considering Wales had sent dirt-trackers who were afraid of getting injured out against Uruguay), and their scrum especially looks awfully shaky. However, if it means we get to see The Awesome Power™ come up against Dr James Roberts (phD in Warrenball running lines) this weekend, I won’t complain!

    As for Ireland, the atmosphere in Cardiff was fantastic, and the Canadians (score otherwise, they would have easily hit double figures if they’d taken points when they were on offer) gave a decent enough account of themselves, and their fans were great craic. The new ref-links that they have are actually pretty snazzy too, letting you choose between listening to the ref and a few different match-day commentaries.

    • I’d agree with most of that but I reckon that England were the big winners of the weekend, Japan asides, obviously. If their group goes the way games between these teams tend to and Wales beat England who beat Australia who beat Wales, then that last minute and completely undeserved (if Fiji could kick goals they’d have led into the last quarter) try bonus point could be absolutely priceless.

      • True, in the longer term I think that makes sense, except I reckon Pocock and Hooper (and Ledesma) are licking their lips at the prospect of getting stuck into the English breakdown/scrum. England really need much bigger performances to make it past Wales and/or Australia

      • D6W

         /  September 22, 2015

        Except now the reward for winning the GoD could be the dubious honour of playing a wounded and angry Boks team 🙂

      • I’d agree with salmson. England played badly but it’s not the worst game in which to play rubbish and the most important thing is they came away with five points. I think it’s a start that might just suit them well enough going into the Wales match.

      • curates_egg

         /  September 22, 2015

        I think there were legitimate questions about 3 of their tries. The 2nd one was the only one where you couldn’t have questioned officials’ decisions on any of the immediately preceding phases. A very hometown refereeing performance that gave them a bonus point.

        The combination of hometown refereeing (which has been confirmed) and raucous support will definitely help them, so that must be a positive for them to have both confirmed on Friday. With the Welsh dropping like flies, you’d wonder will they beat England in Twickenham. I know who my money would be on.

  3. Xyz

     /  September 22, 2015

    Watching it there were two or three times in the game when I thought – that’s it, Japan will crumple and it will be a cake walk for SA from here. And they just wouldn’t give up…. inspirational belief in that team. Great rugby too.

    In fairness, I thought the Bok fans restored their country’s honour afterwards, really classy behaviour.

    • Locho

       /  September 22, 2015

      Really these the fans that booed when the Team eventually decided to show some respect for the opposition by taking the points from a penalty?!

      • Xyz

         /  September 22, 2015

        Afterwards.

      • Don

         /  September 22, 2015

        I heard Saffer’s got off a train first and made a guard of honor for the Japanese getting off the train, applauding them off the platform.
        I don’t know how true this is, but I would dearly love it to be true.
        I’m going to Japan and Samoa, it’s going to be a cracking contest!

  4. D6W

     /  September 22, 2015

    Having taken the opportunity to finish my honey-do list during this expected cake walk (very important to build “credit in the bank” Tommy Bowe-style during the group stages), unfortunately I missed the 1st half. However, hearing the HT score I rushed home to catch the last 20 min.

    What struck me most was how tired the Boks looked. Their #18 nearly staggered off the pitch when he was yellow carded. How many minutes had he actually played? I guess the flip side of having such an experienced team is that it is also an aged team. And it seems that coaches can be blind to this fact until it is humiliatingly exposed like last Saturday. Spain in Brazil being another example.

    • And BNZ later this tournament?

      • Funnily enough, I was cheering for the Argies at the weekend, until I realised that a win for them could drastically (albeit unlikely) put BNZ against us if we topped our pool.

      • D6W

         /  September 22, 2015

        Namibia beating BNZ would be a shock too far, but one can only dream!

    • Yossarian

       /  September 22, 2015

      but they aren’t an aged team. Burger and Matfield aside they are pretty young and inexperienced and i think this is what stopped them closing out wins against Oz and NZ in the tri-nations. Kriel/polard/de jaeger/etzbeth are all quite young. I think the reason they are bringing in some of the older heads is because they can’t close out a game.

      i think there are question marks about their fitness but this seems to be a squad issue rather than an age one.

      • D6W

         /  September 22, 2015

        You have forgotten De Villiers and Habana. There are some young players in the squad, but there are also nine players from the 2007 RWC winning side,

        It may well be a fitness issue, but how could a team have such fitness problems in their first game.

    • As per your Spain example, old teams don’t fade away, they fall off cliffs. And once the aura of invincibility fades, it’s hard to get it back. It being that Scotland and Samoa can physically trade with the Boks at far closer to parity than Japan, what have they to fear?

      • It will be interesting to see how they select from here. Will de Allande come in for kriel or de Villiers? Eztebeth for matfield or de Jaeger? Du Preez or pienaar? Who at fly half? Will there be a backlash or will the old soldiers just fade away? I still think they’ll top the group, conceivably they could even lose to Scotland and still qualify, so it shouldn’t change the group that much (unless japan back it up), but it will have changed South Africa one way or the other.

  5. Roundy

     /  September 22, 2015

    While the Japan win was edge of the seat, enthralling, thrilling rugby are the Boks on the slide. A poor Championship followed by this result does not bode well for them. They did look tired and one dimensional. However it takes nothing from the jananese performance. I hadnt planned on watching this one after sitting through the two previous games that day I decided it was time I went a did a bit of work around the house, ya know the usual Saturday thing. Watched the first five minutes and decided I would stay until the Boks killed of the minnows. Was jumping around the room at the end. Loved every minute of it. Fair play to the supporters, Japanese, Boks and neutrals, the atmosphere was incredible.

  6. I tried to describe how big an upset this was to my wife…it’s like when David bate Goliath, it’s like Kilkenny hurlers losing to ……no it’s even bigger than that, it’s like ….there really was nothing I could say. I remember hearing of a soccer game at the 1950 World Cup where the u s of a defeated England 1-0. The loveable English media thought there had been a mis-print and reported it as 10-1 to England. If you had said to someone who hadn’t seen the game at the weekend – the score was either 132-34, or 32-34, there’s a chance they might have found the first one more likely! I wasn’t around in 1950, but that’s about the only thing I can think of to compare it to. And I know we were well warned of Japan’s improvement by good sources such as yourselves, some of your more erudite contributors and…err, Stephen jones. But still!

    • Best description I’ve heard (but can’t remember where) of Japan’s achievement was that it was like riding the family dachshund to gold in Olympic showjumping.

    • SportingBench

       /  September 22, 2015

      Can we knock the whole Stephen Jones thing on the head. He did not predict Japan would win. He made an ironic comment so typical of his immense wit. Prior to the game on twitter that someone might take the previous tweet seriously (it seems I am about the only person in Ireland not blocked from his tweets, something this comment may remedy). Of course now people are taking the prediction out of context literally. For some reason this really irritates me. Just to be clear, someone may have predicted Japan would win but it sure wasn’t Stephen Jones!

      • Ahhhh, I can totally understand how you find that irritating. I don’t do twitter, but had heard he’d called it. Thanks for correcting that sporting bench, as it was confusing me that it was so out of character. It definitely IS ironic that they went on to win then…… 🙂 I’ll get my coat.

        • SportingBench

           /  September 22, 2015

          I suspect we’ll be hearing for years that Jone “predicted it”. I shall make it my personal quest to repudiate the claim each and every time it arises.

          • Yeah, a lot of people (including us, I’m proud to say!) are blocked by Stephen Jones, so the rumour sort of gathered pace because so few could actually see what he’d written! It was pretty obvious once we saw the tweet (a screenshot anyway!) that he was not forecasting a Japan win. His reporting of the game in the Times (pretty enjoyable truth be told) also did not indicate that this was a result he saw coming.

  7. Andrew097

     /  September 22, 2015

    It’s a big an upset as Ireland beating Rusia in ice hockey at the Olympics
    Was thrilled for Japan. It’s fairy tales like this that make us watch sport, oh the drama

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