Japan’s win over South Africa is already being called the biggest upset in Rugby World Cup history. Argentina’s upset win over France in the opening game of the 2007 Rugby World Cup led to them coming 3rd overall and getting a place in The Rugby Championship. What could this lead to?
First I want to turn the clock back a few months and look at how Japan arrived at this Rugby World Cup. Their preparation for this tournament started earlier than most due to when the Top League is held but also their participation in the Asia 6 Nations. Unsurprisingly they won that competition but the thing that made me setup and take notice was their scrum. It’s not a tournament that I paid much attention to but there was one clip doing the rounds of their dominant scrum. That is not something that Japan have been known for in the past and a quick look at their pool had me thinking of them as dark horses to make it through to the quarter finals.
Fast forward to the Pacific Nations Cup held in North America and they had a disappointing tournament. Not only did they come forth behind Fiji, Samoa and Tonga but there were off the field issues as well. Add into that news that Japan might lose it’s Super Rugby franchise due to a lack of player signings and also that the Rugby World Cup 2017 might be moved to either South Africa or Australia. So off the field issues seamed to be mounting up and some players must be wondering if they will be playing Super Rugby next year, with it sounding like the Union and companies/clubs are not in agreement.
There were a couple of moral boosting wins over Uruguay late on and with all that in mind, as I said in my piece for Rugby Radio, I though they still had a chance at the quarter finals but only an outside one. I thought that they would be more king makers than kings themselves. I was surprised by the number of people on the #RugbyChat and also in the media that thought the USA would beat Japan. Clearly Japan had managed to fly under the radar coming into this tournament and boy hasn’t that changed.
I should have had faith in Eddie Jones knowing how to prepare a team for such a big tournament. They now have a very real chance of winning this group and these players should be under no illusion that this is their one chance. Eddie Jones is leaving after the Rugby World Cup and Japan are not going to be able to find as qualified a coach to replace him. Jones has taken 2 teams to a Rugby World Cup finals, ok one of those was as an assistant coach but that side did win the whole thing.
What this result does mean is that the Super Rugby franchise and Rugby World Cup are assured, as there would be a massive public backlash for them to be taken away now. Just like Argentina got into the Rugby Championship off the back of their performances back in 2007, this performance has done that. As I wrote about a month ago there is still work to be done on the Super Rugby franchise but it is now up to the administrators to step up and deliver what the players have earned.