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YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — When Michael Leitch thanked everyone for supporting his team, he meant absolutely everyone in Japan.
When he dedicated the team’s unprecedented success to the people suffering in the wake of a deadly typhoon that almost caused this game to be cancelled, he meant it from the heart.
His team got the chance to play the game that would prove it was a worthy World Cup quarterfinalist, and he inspired them to take it bravely with a 28-21 win over Scotland on Sunday night, about 24 hours after the destructive storm made landfall.
Against all odds, Japan finished unbeaten to top Pool A and earn a shot at South Africa next week. And it has form against the two-time champion, after producing the so-called Miracle of Brighton to upset the Springboks in 2015.
“It’s a tough time at the moment with the typhoon,” Leitch said. “Everyone who is suffering with the typhoon, this game was all for you.
“Today was more than just a game for us.”
Japan is into the knockout stage for the first time, fittingly in the first Rugby World Cup staged in Asia.
“I’m incredibly proud. From the very start, we played with our heart,” Leitch said. “Today was nothing about skill, it was all about emotion and physicality and we showed that. We are representing Asia, we are representing Japan.”
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