The English seaside resort of Brighton became the Springboks’ Pearl Harbor in their first game in the 2015 rugby World Cup in England yesterday.
Shrewdly coached by Eddie Jones, Japan produced arguably the greatest performance of their history to score the winning try nearly four minutes after full time.
Fittingly, the winning score came as the Samurai warriors demonstrated the superiority they showed over their illustrious opponents for most of the game.
The Japanese elected not to go for a penalty to wrest a draw.
They wanted the win and they won a line-out and won the drive, causing Coenie Oosthuizen to be yellow-carded, won a succession of scrums and then produced the speed and skill to work Karne Hesketh over for the winning try.
It was the first time South Africa had met Japan and it turned out to be the first time they lost to a Tier 2 nation.
It was only Japan’s second victory in the rugby World Cup and the collective tears that broke out between the players and the Japanese fans signalled the biggest upset in the history of the tournament.
The little Japanese tore into the Boks like kamikaze pilots from the word go and never let up. All the reservations one had about the Boks going into the tournament were confirmed.
Jean de Villiers’ team looked like what they are – old, slow and masking injuries.
The Springboks struggled to set their sights for the tackle on much smaller opponents and they simply lacked the nous to wrest the initiative against a team who really don’t belong in their league.
The loose forwards were slow in covering the width of the field and the Japanese, through bravery, cunning and quickness, were able to compete in the set pieces.
The Japanese were more slick in moving the ball, better in the tackle, tactically more clever and more dedicated and they thoroughly deserved what will be a perfect precursor for when they stage the World Cup in 2019.
Having left under an injury cloud South Africa’s opening day at the World Cup got off to a false start when flanker Willem Alberts was withdrawn because of a calf strain picked up at the previous day’s practice.
Pieter-Steph du Toit was promoted from the No 7 jersey and Eben Etzebeth came on to the bench, but given the risks he had taken by picking injured players, it was the worst scenario possible for coach Heyneke Meyer.
However, it has to be said, the barnstorming Alberts, after weeks out of the game, would have been able to add the foot- and hand-speed lacking in the Springbok side.
The light at the end of the tunnel was that the Springboks at least got two log points from their frankly embarrassing defeat – for losing by less than seven points and scoring four tries.
The Springboks’ next pool fixtures are:
Saturday, September 26: vs Samoa at Villa Park in Birmingham.
Saturday, October 3: vs Scotland at St James’ Park in Newcastle.
Wednesday, October 7: vs the US at Olympic Stadium in London.