Late Saturday afternoon, in the English coastal town of Brighton, game four of the Rugby World Cup got underway – the first for Pool B.
With the general expectation of a win to former two-time World Cup champions South Africa over the ever enthusiastic but not daunting opposition of Japan, the game got underway in front of a packed and vocal crowd.
Just over ninety minutes later, Japan – known as the Brave Blossoms – had etched its name in sporting history.
Considered as one of the minnows within the context of this tournament, the question in the build-up has been could this team be competitive against the likes of South Africa, Samoa and Scotland in Pool B and essentially reassure observers of Japan’s growth and development as a rugby nation.
The beauty of sport is that, on the rare occasion, it throws up a surprise of such epic proportions that the effects are felt throughout the world and this is exactly what happened when Japan defeated South Africa by two points with a try in the final play of the game.
Japan’s coach, Australian Eddie Jones, believes this team can now make it to the quarter finals.
Jones somewhat prophetically said, days ahead of the opening match, that he was aiming for a giant killing act against South Africa.
For a team that has won only ONE match in the World Cup -- 24 years ago against Zimbabwe -- it was a ‘Titantic’ performance from the Asian Champions over one of the most successful teams in World Cup history.
The Blossoms have come to this World Cup with an older line-up -- an average age of 29 years. And while it is down on comparative power and bulk, the team plays to its strengths with strong kicking and passing skills and speed when they get clear space.
A testament to the spirit in which the Japan team was playing this game came in the 81st minute. The Blossoms were awarded a penalty close to their line and could have chosen to take a kick and level the scores – a draw would still have been a brilliant result for them -- but in a brave decision, the captain Michael Leitch decided to go for the win and elected to take the scrum feed.
And the rest, as they say, was history.
To watch this match was to be reminded of the joy in the spirit of sport.
The crowd started in full voice in support of the perceived underdog, becoming ecstatic when it was clear there was a serious challenge being put to the Springboks and finally euphoric when the dramatic last-minute try was scored by Karne Hesketh to steal the win.
There were grown men in tears, strangers hugging each other and security guards jumping up and down with the bench players on the side of the pitch.
When all the talk has been about Pool A -- the so-called Pool of Death -- this Pool (B) may turn out to be the one to watch due to this surprise result and to the bonus point system.
The win has given Japan four points but no bonuses as it did not score four tries. Despite the loss, South Africa has received two bonus points -- one for scoring four tries and one for losing by less than seven points. So the score lines of the other matches within this Pool will become more significant.
On the back of this historic win, Eddie Jones says Japan can do more.