Rugby World Cup: Remembering the shock of the century

Article Image

When fans think of Japanese rugby, they think of the 34-32 win against South Africa. But there's much more to the tale, starting with a rout in 1995.

Posted: Feb 15, 2019 10:00 AM
Updated: Feb 15, 2019 10:00 AM

With time almost up on the clock, Japan rolled the dice on England's south coast.

A successful kick at goal could have secured a draw against two-time world champions South Africa -- a remarkable result for a team of Japan's stature. Coach Eddie Jones bayed from the sidelines for his team to take the kick, but captain Michael Leitch thought otherwise.

Leitch wanted a try -- five points that would thrust Japan into the history books with the greatest upset in Rugby World Cup history.

"I'd rather go down challenging South Africa than kicking the goal, missing, and regretting it for the rest of my life," Leitch tells CNN.

They say fortune favors the brave, and the aptly-named Brave Blossoms -- who showed courage and nerve by the bucket-load on that day in 2015 -- were richly rewarded.

When Karne Hesketh slid over after multiple energy-sapping phases of play to give his side a famous 34-32 victory, pandemonium ensued inside Brighton's Amex Stadium as Japan celebrated only its second victory at a Rugby World Cup.

Visit CNN.com/Sport for more news, features and video

This was the nation's finest hour on a rugby pitch, a thrilling spectacle and a giant-slaying for the ages. Captain Leitch can hardly forget the moments leading to that final try.

"The general feeling within the team was let's go for it," says the 30-year-old. "The message did come from upstairs saying kick the goal but the guys around were saying, 'Let's go for the scrum.'

"It was probably one of my better decisions," he smiles.

READ: 'Supreme' England targets in-form Wales in the Six Nations

View from the stands

The sight of Daisuke Komura, draped in a red-spotted poncho and shedding tears of joy at the final whistle of that game, was beamed on TV screens around the world.

A lifelong Japanese rugby fan, he could scarcely have dreamed his travels to the UK for the World Cup would arrive at this point.

"I was as happy as when my first son was born," Komura tells CNN. "I can't describe how I felt. It was an experience that I would never ever get again. I was truly moved."

Like the thousands in the stadium, Komura urged his side to play for the try in the closing minutes. Sitting near him was now England boss Jones, who looked on as the players continued to defy his instructions. Come the final play, Jones couldn't watch.

"Eddie was sitting right behind me and left in anger as he wanted to see a shot at goal," says Komura. "I guess he didn't see the deciding moment, but when I turned back I saw Eddie coming out again with a big smile. We shook hands. His face was full of surprise and shock -- it was a funny moment."

Jones has been credited with masterminding the fast-paced game plan that saw a physically inferior Japanese side run South Africa ragged. As the match wore on it worked a charm, the Brave Blossoms enjoying the lion share of possession and territory in the second period.

READ: England gives France Les Bleus with Six Nations thumping

The victory, as Leitch explains, was no fluke: "We named our training 'Beat the Boks' and that's how we trained.

"It felt like a training run. That's no disrespect to South Africa, but we analyzed the game to the point where we knew each individual's characteristics. That gave us the advantage."

'The worst game ever'

For South Africa, who rallied to reach the semifinals in 2015, that final Hekseth try was a sucker punch to the torso. This defeat wouldn't wash over after a few days; it was a humiliating result for a nation that holds its rugby team on a pedestal.

Siya Kolisi, the current Springbok captain who came on as a substitute in Brighton, remembers it all too vividly.

"I didn't get to play a lot," Kolisi, who was two years into his international career at the time, recently told CNN World Rugby. "I came on as a sub and then they took me off again because I got a yellow card. I was sitting on the side when the last try happened and it was depressing to see.

"You could see it coming from a mile away, as soon as they were passing the ball around. It's the worst game I've actually played in.

"We're a different team now, but obviously I don't want something like that to happen again."

READ: Ireland battles to victory over Scotland

World Cup 2019

Japan ended the 2015 World Cup with victories over USA and Samoa, but a defeat to Scotland meant the Brave Blossoms failed to reach the knockout stages for what would have been the first time.

There's no doubt, though, that the South Africa game changed Japanese rugby forever.

"In the past, when the team came up against a massive opponent like that the guys would have said, 'We're going to lose anyway so why give 100 percent?' says Leitch. "My fondest memory of that game was the guys going at 100 percent the whole 80 minutes."

There are eight months until Japan hosts the Rugby World Cup -- the first ever Asian nation to do so. The host nation's pool games have already sold out, where Scotland and world No. 2 Ireland will be the Brave Blossoms' biggest obstacles against reaching the knockout stages.

"I think Japan's chances of getting out of the pool stages this time round are very high, but it won't be easy ... The team is very focused and our main goal is not to get out the pool stages, it's to keep on winning."

Who knows? Maybe the Miracle of Brighton will be recast as the Shock of Shizuoka when Ireland comes to town.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 35712

Reported Deaths: 2207
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion10037594
Lake3806202
Allen174371
Cass15927
Elkhart143529
St. Joseph132035
Hamilton118094
Hendricks118074
Johnson1120110
Madison59761
Porter55329
Clark52841
Bartholomew52238
Howard43734
LaPorte43624
Tippecanoe4214
Shelby39822
Jackson3942
Delaware38740
Hancock34928
Floyd32140
Boone31835
Vanderburgh2902
Morgan28324
Noble25121
Montgomery24417
Clinton2401
White2389
Decatur23031
Grant22123
Dubois2053
Harrison19622
Henry18412
Vigo1758
Greene17125
Dearborn17021
Monroe17012
Warrick16728
Kosciusko1661
Lawrence16524
Marshall1472
Miami1411
Putnam1377
Orange13122
Jennings1314
Scott1223
Franklin1158
Ripley1086
LaGrange1022
Daviess9516
Carroll933
Steuben872
Wayne865
Wabash802
Fayette797
Newton7810
Jasper701
Jay530
Clay522
Washington511
Rush503
Randolph503
Fulton501
Pulaski490
Jefferson471
Whitley443
DeKalb431
Starke393
Sullivan371
Owen341
Perry340
Huntington342
Brown331
Benton320
Wells320
Knox310
Blackford272
Tipton261
Crawford240
Fountain222
Switzerland210
Spencer211
Adams201
Gibson182
Parke180
Posey160
Ohio130
Warren121
Martin120
Vermillion100
Union90
Pike60
Unassigned0175

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 36792

Reported Deaths: 2300
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin6112290
Cuyahoga4669247
Hamilton2739164
Marion267931
Lucas2296256
Pickaway209537
Summit1487181
Mahoning1463188
Butler93333
Columbiana88952
Stark75299
Lorain70960
Montgomery69516
Trumbull58451
Belmont43914
Warren39021
Medina36623
Miami36230
Tuscarawas3604
Ashtabula34537
Delaware34414
Portage33257
Lake31812
Fairfield3108
Clark3067
Wood30348
Geauga29533
Wayne28851
Licking26510
Mercer2207
Clermont2165
Allen21433
Richland2093
Darke18423
Erie18216
Madison1627
Washington11819
Crawford1174
Morrow1071
Ottawa10217
Greene1025
Putnam9514
Sandusky8512
Monroe7914
Auglaize763
Ross732
Hocking705
Jefferson672
Hardin640
Huron601
Williams561
Union551
Muskingum521
Hancock511
Shelby463
Holmes463
Clinton451
Fulton450
Wyandot442
Coshocton400
Logan400
Fayette400
Preble391
Guernsey362
Defiance342
Carroll313
Brown301
Lawrence300
Champaign281
Highland261
Knox251
Seneca242
Vinton212
Ashland210
Perry191
Athens181
Henry170
Scioto170
Paulding140
Jackson140
Adams101
Harrison100
Pike90
Gallia81
Van Wert70
Noble60
Meigs60
Morgan50
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Overcast
75° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 75°
Angola
Broken Clouds
75° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 75°
Huntington
Overcast
73° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 66°
Feels Like: 73°
Decatur
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 80°
Van Wert
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 80°
Warm & Humid Thursday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events