Japan keep dream alive after weekend of chaos
Remarkable.. A country that stopped for a deadly typhoon on Saturday stopped again on Sunday night to salute the heroics of a history-making Japanese rugby team.
The Brave Blossoms lived up to their nickname with an eye-popping 28-21 victory over Scotland to reach the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup for the first time.
Entry to the quarter-finals was pretty much sealed with their 28-7 lead early in the second half with 70,000-odd delirious fans in the stands in Yokohama and an estimated 40 million-plus watching on TV in the host nation alone.
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Bars from fashionable Akasaka in Tokyo's sprawling metropolis to Sapporo filled with roars, locals were in tears in World Cup fan zones, jersey sales of Japanese kit haven't been able to keep up. It was beautiful chaos.
Perhaps, no country could be so resilient one day with flooding, landslides, 150km per hour winds and a loss of life yet find reason to cheer with joy 24 hours later with the salve offered by a rugby match.
This pivotal game was no certainty to be played after the England-France clash 24 hours earlier at the same International Stadium Yokohama was wisely cancelled when Typhoon Hagibis was at its angriest.
It was only given the go-ahead on the morning of the match after a thorough inspection of infrastructure and assessing any water damage.
You'd call it one of rugby's great boilovers but its not. It was won on form and superior play.
The Japanese stunned recent world No.1 Ireland 19-12 early in the tournament and are a heavyweight in every sense.
Their fast, innovative, sure-handed attack and low, chop tackling was a revelation again on Sunday night as they showed the world how rugby can be played without a red or yellow card in sight.
Japan's reward for topping Pool A is a quarter final against South Africa in Tokyo next Sunday.
You'd tip the Springboks nine times-out-of-10 until you remember the miracle of Japan's upset of South Africa at the World Cup four years ago.
Only the All Blacks have a better record than Japan's 50 per cent winning record against the Boks. Go figure?
The pool-topping Japanese have given their own tournament a thumping heart with four straight wins.
The Scots even led 7-0 early with a sharp Finn Russell try.
At the 17-minute mark, winger Kotaro Matsushima stunned by finishing off a fine blindside raid and added another reason why he is contention for Player-of-the-Tournament.
Soon after, Japan produced an even better one with multiple offloads in an advance that put prop Keita Inagaki over.
The close passing, the wide balls, the regular sweeps to the blindside to commit Scottish defenders, thr sticky-fingered handling...this was quality.
A grubber kick ahead was pinpoint for the first of winger Kenki Fukuoka's two tries.
The Scots roared back in the second half with back-to-back tries to close the scores to 28-21 with 25 minutes still to play but the clock was always the enemy.
The Scots had to win by eight points and grab a four-try bonus point by that stage to deny Japan's advance to the quarters.
It was heart-pumping stuff for a country which needed to finish a weekend of chaos with a smile.
The quarter-finals now line up this way.
The Wallabies will meet England in Oita next Saturday while unbeaten Wales will tackle France a day later at the same venue.
The Japanese will take on the might of the Boks next Sunday at Tokyo Stadium, a day after the All Blacks meet Ireland on the same turf in another fascinating match-up.
Go Nippon! Go Nippon!
Millions screamed it when watching a magical Sunday night in Yokohama unfold live or on TV.
Is there more to what is a pulsating sporting fairytale already?