A second miracle? Japan v South Africa at Rugby World Cup

Richard CARTER
1 / 2
One of the greatest upsets in sporting history

Japan have only played South Africa once at a Rugby World Cup but it was one of the most famous games in the tournament's history and produced one of the biggest shocks in sport.

South Africa hit back in a warm-up match before the 2019 World Cup, in the words of coach Rassie Erasmus, to "erase" the pain of that loss but hosts Japan are hoping that lightning can strike twice in Sunday's quarter-final.

- 2015: the miracle of Brighton -

No one gave Eddie Jones's Japan a prayer of beating the mighty Springboks as they took the field in Brighton for their opening pool match in 2015. The bookies had South Africa 500-1 favourites, but the Brave Blossoms had other ideas.

When Francois Louw opened the scoring for the Springboks, many expected them to run up a huge score against Japan, who had been on the wrong end of some embarrassingly one-sided defeats in past World Cups, including a 145-17 loss to the All Blacks.

But Japan produced an almighty first-half defensive effort and trailed just 12-10 at the break, a try from inspirational captain Michael Leitch keeping them in touch.

Despite an early second-half try by Lood de Jager, the boot of Ayumu Goromaru kept Japan in the game and the score was an improbable 22-22 with less than 20 minutes to play.

Hooker Adriaan Strauss burst through tiring Japanese defences to give the Springboks a critical lead, and most in the stadium in the English coastal city of Brighton expected them to run away with it.

But Goromaru scored a sensational converted try to level the scores at 29-29, setting up a nerve-jangling last 10 minutes.

A Handre Pollard penalty gave the favourites a 32-29 lead before Leitch famously spurned a penalty chance that would have tied the game, instead going for the win.

His gamble paid off, replacement wing Karne Hesketh bolting into the corner nearly five minutes into injury time to win 34-32 to give Jones probably his most satisfying victory.

Heartbreakingly for Japan, they ultimately failed to make it through the group stage, a 45-10 loss to Scotland meaning they were eliminated due to bonus points.

But the Springboks bounced back to top the pool and beat Wales in the quarter-finals before losing a semi-final thriller 20-18 to the All Blacks.

- 2019: Reality check in Kumagaya -

Just two weeks before the 2019 World Cup kicked off, the two sides faced off again in a warm-up match, Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus picking his strongest available side to slay the demons of four years previously.

This time, there was to be no miracle, as South Africa overpowered a disappointing Japan in brutal late summer heat in Kumagaya, north of Tokyo.

Winger Makazole Mapimpi was the hat-trick hero for the Springboks as Japan struggled to deal with his pace and that of his side-kick Cheslin Kolbe, trailing 22-0 at half-time.

There was no let-up after the break, as South Africa dominated the set-piece and Mapimpi burst clear to complete his hat-trick on 52 minutes.

Japan's own flier Kotaro Matsushima pulled a try back on the hour mark and with the Springboks seeming to wilt in the heat and losing Francois Louw to a yellow-card, there were hopes of an unlikely comeback.

However, Kolbe grabbed a second and Herschel Jantjies got in on the act with a sixth try for South Africa as it finished 41-7.

Ahead of Sunday's quarter-final, Erasmus admitted that the reason to play the Kumagaya warm-up was to "erase the Brighton game".

"It's 1-1 now and now we're going to be in for a really tough game. One-one. And that game (Brighton) is in the past now and hopefully we won't get asked about it," he laughed.