Jones puts Cherries on top with Japan's Rugby upset
HE helped mastermind one of South Africa's greatest moments, its victory in the 2007 World Cup, and now former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones has led Japan to arguably the biggest upset in rugby history.
Jones, born in Tasmania to a Japanese mother and Australian father, said he knew his team would give 100% in its opening pool game against the Springboks in Brighton, but admitted he hadn't really thought winning was a possibility in a match promoted as David taking on Goliath.
Indeed, Japan had just one victory to show from its 24 pool matches at previous World Cups - against lowly Zimbabwe in 1991. South Africa, on the other hand, had the best record of any country, having lost just four of its 29 pool games.
As it turned out, those records meant nothing as the Cherry Blossoms hung tough for the whole game before scoring a well-deserved try in extra-time - after passing up the opportunity to secure a draw with a penalty from straight in front - to notch a historic 34-32 victory.
"It's quite unbelievable," Jones said.
"A fantastic achievement for the team - they worked hard for this - and a great day for Japanese rugby.
"Japan can only play one way, moving the ball around, we've only got a little team."
Jones said the win had the potential to provide the country with an incredible boost ahead of the 2019 World Cup, which Japan will host.
"There are little kids at home now who maybe wanted to be basketballers or soccer players, who wanted to be the next (Mashiro) Tanaka at the New York Yankees or (Shinji) Kagawa at ... whoever he plays for in Germany (Borussia Dortmund) or (Keisuke) Honda at AC Milan," Jones said.
"Now they will want to be the next Michael Leitch or Ayumu Gorumaru. It can change the face of the sport in Japan because the best athletes might now be attracted to play rugby. It can have an amazing impact."
And it would have more of an impact if the team followed up the stunning upset by making it through the pool stage - something Jones said was now a realistic option. "Our target must be to make the quarter-finals," he said.
Hot favourite to top Pool B prior to the match, South Africa now faces the prospect of having to beat Scotland to get through, assuming Japan can repeat that effort against the USA and Samoa, which could also be a surprise packet at this tournament.
Springboks captain Jean de Villiers, playing his first game since breaking his jaw early last month, said he was stunned by the loss.
"We just weren't good enough," he said. "The character in this side will be tested now. There is still a possibility to get out of the group, but we'll need to win every game. I am lost for words."
- APN SPORTS BUREAU
Japan 34 def South Africa 32
Georgia 17 def Tonga 10
France 32 def Italy 10
Ireland 50 def Canada 7