Japan’s Brave Blossoms late injury time win over the giants of South Africa last year was undoubtedly the greatest shock in the history of the Rugby World Cup. Not only that but it was one of the biggest giant killings in sport and it is one that I never tire of watching. It rarely fails to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end whether I’m watching the last few minutes on YouTube or listening to the radio commentary clips.
Since then rugby has taken off and grown in popularity a fair bit. It now features quite often in the sports news which it never did previously. It’s still far from being huge but their World Cup heroics propelled the game from relative obscurity to one that is much better known by people now. Basically, it’s going in the right direction which is perfect timing for 2019 when the World Cup comes to Japan in a bid to expand the game beyond the traditional hotbeds that have always hosted the tournament.
I’m actually not such a bandwagon jumper as I previously watched Japan host Ireland (18-47) in 2005 and in 2012 they played against Samoa (26-27); both which took place at Chichibunomiya. This time though it was played at the far bigger (though not necessarily better!) Ajinomoto Stadium near Tobitakyu station on the Keio Line. The last time I went to this stadium there was a big earthquake which held up the match for a while at the most critical of moments.
This time the match was not delayed but it probably should’ve been as the Keio line (the only line going to Tobitakyu station) completely went down just after 6pm because of a suicide meaning that thousands of people couldn’t get to the stadium in time. Unaware of what was really happening at first, I just followed a couple in rugby shirts to the Chuo Line at Shinjuku and on the way I got chatting to them and we ended up sharing a taxi from Shiraitodai Station on the Seibu Tamagawa line.
The match had only just kicked off when I found my seat between the two Scots, Neil and Andy who both had Scottish flags on them. The latter was even wearing his kilt! Hiromi made it on the stroke of half time and Mostyn at the start of the second half. He wasn’t the only one to do just a half as the Imperial couple – Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko also arrived then for their first ever live Japan match.
This was the second test match between these sides who are ranked ninth (Scotland) and tenth respectively. Star men Ayumu Goromaru and Michael Leitch were sadly unavailable for Japan in both games due to their respective shoulder and thumb injuries gained during the current Super Rugby season.
Seven days earlier in Nagoya the Scots ran out 26-13 winners but this one was a bit closer and at half time it looked as though Japan might tie the series as they led 13-9 at the break having scored a breathtaking breakaway try from inside their own 22. Replacement Greg Laidlaw was Scotland’s saviour though as he scored four penalty kicks during his half hour on the pitch to seal a 2-0 series win for the tourists in front of a record home rugby crowd of 34,073 people.
Final score: Japan 16 – 21 Scotland
Click here to read ‘日本 vs サもア(Japan vs Samoa)’