A full review of Japan's history-making win over South Africa in the World Cup in Brighton


Japan caused the biggest upset in World Cup history when beating South Africa in Brighton. It was their first RWC win since 1991 and only their second in history, the famous triumph secured when Karne Hesketh scored a try in the last minute. This after Japan turned down the opportunity to kick a penalty that would have leveled the scores.


Seaside delights – Brighton embraced this game and, in particular, Japan. There were a fair number of Japanese fans in the crowd anyway and the way the Brave Blossoms played from the kick-off, keeping the ball in hand and showing great ambition, drew in the neutrals as well. There was an incredible atmosphere throughout.

Japan’s organisation – The influence of Eddie Jones and Steve Borthwick was clear from the structure and organisation this Japanese side showed. Their scrum was solid and their lineout creative – they even scored a try from a driving maul against the famously physical Springboks. Most impressive, though, was their defence. Yes, they were found wanting a couple of times in one-on-one situations, but on the whole their line held firm and they were not overwhelmed by their bigger opponents. And they maintained that intensity until the final whistle, the reward being two well-worked back-line tries.

Ayumu Goromaru

Main man: Ayumu Goromaru scores a well-worked try in the second half. Photo: Getty Images

Bonus time – It will be of small consolation to South Africa but the fact they collected two bonus points – one for scoring four tries and one for finishing within seven points ­– could prove crucial come the end of the pool stages.

Fumiaki Tanaka – He was the smallest man on the pitch but he dictated the game with huge authority. It was his sparky approach that allowed Japan to play such a fast-paced game and continually put South Africa on the back foot, which led to them conceding penalties. And Ayuma Goromaru was so accurate with the boot.


South Africa – It may seem harsh to put the whole team in here but they were significantly under par in this match. They scored some fairly easy tries through Lood de Jager and Adriaan Strauss, bursting through the line, and it looked like they would take control in the second half, but they were unable to assert their traditional physical dominance. And their back-line offered very little in the way of creative attacking play. They lacked ideas and there’s a lot to work on!

Adriaan Strauss

Power surge: Adriaan Strauss bursts through to score a try. Photo: Getty Images

The schedule – Japan now face just a five-day turnaround before playing Scotland at Kingsholm on Wednesday, which could impact on their ability to secure back-to-back wins. It’s long been a complaint about World Cups that it’s the minnows more often than not who have shorter turnarounds. The situation has improved but there’s still work to be done before it’s fair for all nations.


12 – The number of offloads South Africa made, compared to one by Japan.

7 – The number of turnovers made by Japan. South Africa made five.

16 – The number of tackles made by Michael Leitch, more than any other player.

Japan celebrate

History makers: Japan celebrate Karne Hesketh’s winning try in the last minute. Photo: Getty Images

South Africa: Z Kirchner; B Habana, J Kriel, J de Villiers (capt), L Mvovo (JP Pietersen 70); P Lambie (H Pollard 58), R Pienaar (F du Preez 58); T Mtawarira (T Nyakane 54, Mtawarira 79), B du Plessis (A Strauss 54), J du Plessis (C Oosthuizen 54), L de Jager (E Etzebeth 68), V Matfield, F Louw, PS du Toit (S Kolisi 57, J du Plessis 79), S Burger.

Tries (4): Louw, B du Plessis, de Jager, Strauss. Cons: Lambie 2, Pollard. Pens: Lambie, Pollard.

Yellow card: Oosthuizen (78min)

Japan: A Goromaru; A Yamada (K Hesketh 78), M Sa’u, H Tatekawa, K Matsushima; K Ono (H Tatekawa 74), F Tanaka (A Hiwasa 67); M Mikami (K Inagaki 58), S Horie (T Kizu 70), K Hatakeyama (H Yamashita 10-20, 54), L Thompson, H Ono (S Makabe 54), M Leitch (capt), M Broadhurst, H Tui (A Mafi 46).

Tries (3): Leitch, Goromaru, Hesketh. Cons: Goromaru 2. Pens: Goromaru 5.

Referee: Jerome Garces (France)

Man of the Match: Fumiaki Tanaka

Attendance: 29,290

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