Rugby South Africa rocks Japan out of its Rugby World Cup dream

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10:09 AM ET

  • Rugby

    Tom HamiltonSenior Writer


      • Joined ESPN in 2011
      • Covered two Olympics, a pair of Rugby World Cups and two British & Irish Lions tours
      • Previously rugby editor, and became senior writer in 2018

TOKYO — 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 quarterfinal, still the local supporters shouted, hoped and desperately clung to tentative hopes of a second rugby miracle. Michael Leitch, the Japan captain, was still cheered to the rafters every time he got the ball; every knock-on or penalty in their favour was still welcomed like it was their lifeline. 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 as the Springboks eventually closed it out with a 26-3 victory. They will play Wales in next Sunday’s semifinal, an evenly matched final four game with the winner then facing either England or New Zealand in the final.

The harder Japan battled, the more South Africa pulled away — this must be what it’s like to be slowly sinking into quicksand. The Springboks perfected the art of using their impenetrably superb defence as a means of generating points through Handre Pollard’s boot and ultimately cemented their spot in the semifinals of the World Cup thanks to a one-two combination punch of Faf de Klerk and Makazole Mapimpi’s tries.

The Springboks did a masterful job of shutting down space. They

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