Rugby World Cup 2019: Media reacts to Japan's defeat to South Africa

Japan's dream run came to a disappointing end on Monday (NZ time), with a 26-3 defeat to South Africa.

The 'Brave Blossoms' created history by winning all their pool games, including maiden wins over Ireland and Scotland, which led to their first appearance in the knockout stages of the tournament. 

To put this in perspective, heading into this tournament, they'd only won four World Cup games, dating back to 1987 - three of those came in 2015.

In 1991, they beat Zimbabwe, but had no success until 2015, although they did secure draws against Canada in 2007 and 2011.

Four years ago, they beat South Africa, USA and Samoa, but lost to Scotland and missed out on the quarter-finals. 

But in 2019, they bounced back to defy the odds and while the tournament is over for the host nation, they have changed the landscape of international rugby.

Here is how the international media reacted to their exit at the World Cup.

Kenichi Okumura - The Japan News


"The long and valiant battle of the Japan national team at the Rugby World Cup, which won the hearts of fans around the world, is over.

"With its cohesive attack and impressive ball-handling, the Brave Blossoms raced to stunning victories over one strong team after another, leading to a first-ever appearance in the quarter-finals. 

"How did Japan develop into such a potent player on the world stage?

"The main driving force behind this great leap forward was the mutual sense of spirit among the team members under the slogan 'One Team'.

"Foreign players become eligible to play for another national team by meeting certain criteria. Of the 31 players on the Japan squad, 15 - or nearly half - were born elsewhere. They hail from six different countries, including New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.

"The team members practised singing the national anthem 'Kimigayo' and deepened their understanding of it by visiting the 'Sazareishi' stone monument that appears in the lyrics. Armour was displayed at hotels that they stayed in during training camps to ingrain the 'Samurai' spirit. They also studied Japanese history.

"The squad's success has proved to be a welcome tonic to a society plagued with uncertainty, offering ideas for how to tackle some of the challenges of the future.

Fans cheer on Japan at Tokyo Stadium.
Fans cheer on Japan at Tokyo Stadium. Photo credit: Reuters

"The Japan national team has not been the only success story. Local fans sang the national anthems of the participating countries to welcome them and word of Japan's heartfelt hospitality has spread around the world. The Canadian team volunteered to help in the recovery of a typhoon-hit area and many teams have interacted with locals between matches.

"The tournament will continue until the final on November 2. Rugby is a game in which titans slam into each other in search of victory and when it is over, players and fans mutually congratulate each other for their efforts. We hope the appeal of rugby will spread and take root in Japan."

Tom Hamilton - ESPN


"The Japan fans woke from their rugby dream to the sound of South African cheers reverberating around Tokyo. But as the Springboks' insurmountable lead grew in this Rugby World Cup quarter-final, still the local supporters shouted, hoped and desperately clung to tentative hopes of a second rugby miracle. 

"But as this World Cup has increasingly showed, there is no room for sentimentality and under the night sky on their own patch of land, Japan's fairy-tale tournament was brought to an abrupt finish.

"The harder Japan battled, the more South Africa pulled away - this must be what it's like to be slowly sinking into quicksand. 

"The sport now needs to be open-minded and not a closed shop. Japan have made a mockery of their 'tier two' status and have embodied respect for their own team and the opposition. They have earned every opportunity heading forward and the sport needs to find a way to ensure they're not limited to making an impact every four years.

Faf de Klerk goes over for a try against Japan.
Faf de Klerk goes over for a try against Japan. Photo credit: Getty

"They have achieved their pre-tournament goal. No longer are they known for just the 'miracle match' of four years ago, when they beat South Africa in one of the greatest sporting upsets of all time, and are now seen as a top-eight side in their own right. Once the disappointment of being knocked out of the tournament subsides, there should be immense pride. For five weeks Japan won our rugby hearts and ensured they will be remembered for decades to come for the time they had the sport enthralled and a nation dreaming of success."

Andy Bull - The Guardian


"So long then and thank you, Japan. Bruises fade, bones heal, tears dry and even the pain of this will give way, in time, to resounding pride at everything this team have achieved in these last few weeks and the four consecutive victories that came before this last defeat. 

"Because whichever of the four sides left in this tournament go on to win it, this will be remembered as Japan's World Cup. Not just because of the job they have done of hosting it, but for the way their team, representing what is, in the large part, still an amateur league, lit up the sport with their bravery, wit and creativity. 

"Japanese fans have a saying, 'ganbare!' It is another one of those fiddly words that people tend to translate three ways: 'Do your best!', 'hang in!' 'go for it!' And that's exactly what they did. When Faf de Klerk scored the try that decided the game in the 66th minute, Japan were 18 points down and there were 14 minutes to play. The game had gone then, but their indomitable captain, Michael Leitch, pulled them all together into a circle underneath the posts and shouted at them to go again. Which they did. All the way to within arm's reach of the South African try-line." 

Martin Samuel - The Daily Mail


"Handre Pollard turned to his left and hoofed the ball into the crowd. He did not allow the narrative to breathe one second longer than was necessary. 

"Like his South African team-mates, he executed the job that had been demanded. He killed Bambi. What else were the Springboks meant to do?

"Japan have been the great entertainers, the great game-changers, the great romantics of this tournament, but no more. From here, it is about the big boys and their big boys. That's what South Africa had in abundance here.  

"Japan who have challenged the conventional wisdom of the sport. South Africa are the better XV, obviously. They are a very, very good rugby team. But that's all they are. A good rugby team. And we've seen plenty of those over the decades. Japan are different. Japan are playing the game in a way that looks and feels unique.

"And yes, the All Blacks have been delivering beautiful rugby pretty much forever. At their best, they are Japan upgraded, a refined version of that carousel of offloads and invention, minus the poor decisions and the gambles, the misjudgements and blind alleys. Yet at their best, Japan seemed even faster than that. Crazy fast. Crazy new."

Jonathan Liew - The Independent


"Perhaps, ultimately, this was the way it had to end. The way it needed to end. An ugly mauling by a team of unlovable juggernauts; the natural order of things restored; the harsh realities of international rugby driven home. You've got to dish these lessons out early in life: the world is a cruel place, fairy tales aren't real, the bigger boys always win out in the end, nothing good ever lasts. That's the trouble with dreams: as golden as they are, as soon as they start, the clock's ticking. 

"And on a crisp evening in the biggest city on the planet, Japan's time finally ticked out. Half the country had tuned into their win against Scotland and even more will almost certainly have been watching tonight. A fair number will probably never watch another game of rugby again in their lives. But for the rest, maybe something rare and precious has been planted over the last five weeks. Maybe this could be the start of something, not the end.

Jamie Joseph lines up along with Asaeli Ai Valu and Isileli Nakajim.
Jamie Joseph lines up along with Asaeli Ai Valu and Isileli Nakajim. Photo credit: Photosport

"It has certainly felt that way, as slowly at first and then all at once, a nation fell in love with a game that for a large part of its history they played to a barely acceptable standard. Actually, perhaps that's not quite right. It wasn't so much a game that Japan fell in love so much as a team: this team, this magnificent bunch of boys, who in defeat displayed the same dignity and ambition they had displayed in victory.

South Africa won, but in a more abstract sort of way, so did Japan. Their electrifying run may have been grappled to the ground, but they will emerge from the tournament as a respected member of the game's elite: No.6 in the world, ahead of Australia. And on another level, they have achieved something that perhaps only the All Blacks have managed in recent times. Both within rugby and among the constituency of agnostics, Japan have shifted the window of the possible, reimagined how the game of rugby union might be played and enjoyed at the highest level. 

"The greatest sides challenge conventions. Maybe you don't need a team of ocean liners to win test matches. Maybe you can win with relentless speed, impossible angles, on-the-hoof wizardry. Maybe your scrum half doesn't need to box-kick a dozen times a game. Maybe you can build a rugby culture from scratch. Maybe you can play the game with nous and élan and - that vastly underrated concept - fun. For Japan, it may all have ended in tears. The tournament carries on without them. But for these few thrilling weeks, they showed us another way." 

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