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A powerful South Africa ended the hopes of millions of Japanese rugby fans when they ground down the host nation 26-3 in their Rugby World Cup quarter-final at Tokyo Stadium on Sunday.
Japan had set their home tournament alight with a scintillating style of organised chaos that swept them through their pool unbeaten with victories against tier one nations Ireland and Scotland.
Their fairytale run, however, ended against a formidable Springboks defensive effort that slowed the Japanese speed, while the South Africans, who only led 5-3 at halftime, relied on halfback pairing Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard to keep them pinned in their own half.
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The Springboks, who scored three tries – two from winger Makazole Mapimpi – but wasted a string of other chances, will now face Wales in the semi-finals in Yokohama next week after they recorded a 20-19 victory over a 14-man France, who had lock Sebastian Vahaamahina sent off at Oita Stadium earlier on Sunday.
Hello all and welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of this morning’s Rugby World Cup clash between Japan and South Africa.
I’ll be bringing you all the live action, reaction and analysis from Tokyo – so make sure to stay tuned!
It’s the big one.
For every fan, regardless of allegiances, it’s a story that has thrilled and delighted in every measure. Hosts Japan have ripped up the script, claimed two northern hemisphere scalps, secured a first-ever quarter-final berth and now take on the side they famously felled four years ago in Brighton.
With their exhilarating, free-flowing style of rugby helping further endear the neutral masses to their cause, the Brave Blossoms head into this match with the support of much more than just the Japanese population.
The Springboks, never one to shy away from a fight, will no doubt be relishing tonight’s challenge. They remain favourites but as Japan have proved so far, always expect the unexpected from this lot.
Today’s match is played against the backdrop of tragedy. After the devastation wrought by Typhoon Hagibis last weekend, a total of 78 people have been confirmed as dead. Sport will always pale into significance in the face of such suffering – which is why Japan will want to do all they can to lift spirits this evening.
I ventured up to Fukushima to visit one of the worst-hit areas in the storm. Here’s my piece and thoughts on what today means for a hurting nation:
Some stats and facts to set the scene:
– Of the current players who featured in the ‘Brighton Miracle’, Michael Leitch (Japan) and Francois Louw (South Africa) scored a try in that match.
– Kotaro Matsushima and Pieter ‘Lappies’ Labuschagne were both born in South Africa.
– Japan can become the first Tier 2 side to win three matches against current Tier 1 sides at a single World Cup, since 2007, when Argentina defeated France twice and Ireland once.
– Japan have progressed to the pool phase for the first time at a Rugby World Cup. Since 1995, the host country always survived the group stage, except for England four years ago when they finished third in their pool behind Australia and Wales.
– Japan and Wales are the only teams left in the tournament with a perfect record (as cancelled matches count as a draw). All teams that went on to win the Webb Ellis Cup won with a perfect record.
– Japan is the fourth Tier 2 country to have made it to the quarte
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