Japan fans sad, but proud

Japan fans (Gallo Images)
Japan fans (Gallo Images)

Tokyo - Japanese rugby fans reacted philosophically after Scotland's narrow 36-33 victory over Samoa on Saturday eliminated the "Brave Blossoms" from the Rugby World Cup.

After stunning two-time World Cup winners South Africa in their opening match and beating Samoa in their third, Japan needed the Pacific islanders to do them a favour in Newcastle to keep alive their hopes of reaching the quarter-finals.

Close as it was, this was not to be.

"Ah, I hate Scotland!" medical student Haruka Imafuji, 22, told AFP while drowning her sorrows after watching the game at a Tokyo bar as the clocked ticked past one in the morning local time.

"Well, not really. But Scotland beat Japan, and then they knocked us out. And Samoa almost did it!"

Japan sent shockwaves through world rugby with their opening 34-32 win over South Africa - the biggest upset in tournament history - before being flattened 45-10 by the Scots.

However, they proved they were no one-hit wonders with a 26-5 win over Samoa last weekend, a game which smashed all previous rugby television viewing records as 25 million people - a fifth of Japan's population - tuned in to watch.

"You have to be proud," said salesman Kenji Serizawa, 38. "Did we really expect to win two games? If we beat the United States tomorrow, it will be three. We shouldn't be greedy."

His wife, Manami, disagreed. "Yes, we should," she said, nursing a vodka and tonic.

"I cried after they beat South Africa. I didn't even know I liked rugby. I don't understand the rules, but I've fallen in love with it."

Japan can still go out with a bang with their third win of the group stages against the Americans on Sunday.

"It will be nice to beat America!" said 'Mac' Hasegawa, a 29-year-old graphic designer. "It's a bit of an anti-climax to be out before we play them, but might as well biff them anyway!"

Japan had only ever won once at a World Cup, against minnows Zimbabwe in 1991, before their last-minute victory over the mighty Springboks, World Cup champions in 1995 and 2007.

But Australian coach Eddie Jones was vindicated after boldly targeting a quarter-final spot, despite their fairytale run coming to an end.

Japan's performances also gave the country a timely shot in the arm after they had looked in danger of losing their hosting rights for the 2019 World Cup.

"At least now they can't take the World Cup off us," sniffed Nobuyuki Inui, 28, a company worker and amateur rugby player, before breaking into a broad grin. "Japan 2019 winners!"

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