Japan stuns Ireland 19-12 in huge World Cup upset
Hosts Japan stunned Ireland 19-12 in an extraordinary upset on Saturday to win their second match of the Rugby World Cup and put themselves in pole position to reach the knockout stages for the first time.
The Brave Blossoms came from behind at Shizuoka Stadium with Kenki Fukuoka's second-half try and Yu Tamura's boot beating a side recently ranked number one in the world in a shock to match their victory over twice world champions South Africa at the 2015 World Cup.
While they stunned world rugby then, to win this time in front of an uproarious home crowd with so much focus on Asia's first World Cup was arguably more significant.
"You've just got be careful before the game, you don't want to come across arrogant or cocky but we had a lot of belief in our gameplan, we knew what we wanted to do. We knew how strong Ireland were," coach Jamie Joseph said in a pitchside interview.
"We're obviously ecstatic about the result. We're really proud of the players... We've got another couple of games to go but we'll enjoy tonight I reckon."
The hosts, who had never beaten Ireland before, were utterly worthy winners and, having admitted that their nerves got the better of them in the 30-10 curtain-raising win over Russia, there was no repeat eight days later.
They came flying out of the blocks and, after Kotaro Matsushima was a bounce away from getting his fourth try of the World Cup, Tamura missed an easy penalty chance to turn 10 minutes of impressive phases into three points.
He would barely put a foot wrong after that.
Once Ireland got a foothold, their gameplan became obvious; attacking off the kind of forward pressure that smashed the Scots and testing the Japanese with the clever array of kicking from flyhalf Jack Carty, starting instead of the struggling Johnny Sexton.
The 27-year-old late bloomer, who started his first test last month and was not part of the Ireland set up until this year's Six Nations, found the dangerous Garry Ringrose with a pinpoint crossfield kick for the first try on 14 minutes and a dink over the top seven minutes later put Rob Kearney in.
Tamura knocked over a penalty in between the two tries and Japan showed the first signs that they were not going away. They already looked like they had Ireland on the ropes, with Tamura cutting the deficit with a second penalty.
With five minutes to go to the break the Irish threatened again and had what looked like a decisive attacking scrum against their lighter opponents.
The Japanese pack, however, then produced an extraordinary effort, destroying the Irish eight at the put-in and driving them backwards before winning a penalty.
The crowd rose, producing a huge roar which was matched by the players, prop Jiwon Koo and hooker Shota Horie screaming at the top of their voices. A potential 19-6 Irish halftime lead turned into just a 12-9 advantage as an exhausted-looking Irish defence looked happy to hear the halftime whistle.
'FURIOUS AND INTENSE'
Japan, who had never got within 16 points in seven previous defeats to Ireland, were back at it after the break with more high-tempo attacking play and Ireland already looked like they were hanging on as their penalty count inched up.
Shellshocked, Joe Schmidt's men were making uncharacteristic simple errors and Fukuoka, a last-minute addition to the bench after an injury to Will Tupou, sensationally gave Japan the lead with 20 minutes to go and Tamura slotted over his most difficult kick of the night to make it 16-12.
Ireland, who chose not to risk the struggling Sexton, simply had no answer and with the home fans getting louder and louder, Tamura extended the lead to seven points eight minutes from time.
Japan finished the game deep in the Irish half to top a pool Ireland were heavy favourites to win, although Schmidt noted how crucial his team's losing bonus point might prove to be.
"We played well in the first quarter and got out to a 12-3 lead and then we stopped playing," said Schmidt as fireworks lit up the Shizuoka sky in front of Japan's exuberant fans dressed in red and white.
"Congratulations to Japan, what a furious and intense performance that was! We're really disappointed we couldn't control the finish but they are a really good team."