Rugby World Cup 2019: History repeats as outstanding Japan spring another shock

By Sports Desk September 28, 2019

The ball was switched to the left wing, a Japan player crossed in the corner for a crucial try against heavily favoured Rugby World Cup opponents and a huge roar, befitting the occasion, engulfed the stadium.

Stop me if you've heard this one before.

Four years on from their astonishing triumph over South Africa at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Japan pulled off another massive upset on Saturday, beating Ireland 19-12 in Shizuoka to light up their home tournament.

What is more, Kenki Fukuoka's decisive try against Ireland even brought back memories of Karne Hesketh's stunning match-winner versus the Springboks, both in terms of where on the pitch the try was scored but also the reaction it provoked.

In 2015, the Brighton Community Stadium was the venue for one of the biggest shocks in sporting history. Japan's triumph over South Africa was beyond unexpected and their success was secured in the most dramatic fashion, Hesketh dotting down in the 84th minute to settle a topsy-turvy contest.

That score understandably triggered wild celebrations, with Japan's players and fans knowing there was no time remaining for the Boks to deny them a momentous scalp.

Ireland still had more than a quarter of the game to respond in Shizuoka when Fukuoka went over to put Japan ahead for the first time with 22 minutes remaining, but the noise that greeted the try was nevertheless overwhelming.

Hope had suddenly turned to expectation for the vast majority of the spectators in the stadium and their belief was rewarded as Jamie Joseph's side held on to their advantage against a side that began the tournament ranked number one in the world.

After the game, Ireland captain Rory Best suggested Japan's win was not a massive upset given their development in recent years.

Yet while it is fair to suggest the victory over South Africa may never be topped in terms of shock value, this was still a mighty achievement for the 'Brave Blossoms'.

Ireland's form has dipped considerably since their sensational 2018 season, which featured a Six Nations Grand Slam, a victorious tour of Australia and a memorable success against New Zealand in Dublin.

Joe Schmidt's men were far too good for Scotland in their opening World Cup game, though, and understandably started as strong favourites against the hosts, only to be undone by a terrific Japan display.

It had looked as though the final group game of this tournament would effectively be a shoot-out for second place in Pool A between Scotland and Japan, but the latter are now favourites to finish top.

Should Japan achieve that feat, they will almost certainly avoid a quarter-final clash with the All Blacks and face South Africa in Tokyo on October 20.

Given events in Brighton four years ago and in Shizuoka on Saturday, another meeting between Japan and the Springboks would represent must-see viewing.

Can history repeat itself once again? It would certainly be fun to find out.

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