A last-minute Karne Hesketh try secured a 34-32 win for Japan over two-time champions South Africa in one of the biggest shocks in Rugby World Cup history on Saturday.
Japan attacked the Springboks from the first minute in an inspiring performance in the Pool D opening match in Brighton.
After Ayumu Goromaru scored 24 points including an brilliant try to keep Japan in the game, Hesketh finally pierced South Africa’s desperate defence in the dying seconds to claim the famous win.
Japan’s players went on a lap of honour with national flag amid a roars of support from the 29,000 crowd.
South Africa went into the game expecting a big win but Japan were never overawed.
Japan could well have scored a try in the sixth minute, fullback Goromaru bursting through the midfield.
However, Goromaru went on his own instead of passing to the player outside and ran into a Springbok wall.
He made up for this by slotting over a penalty to put the Japanese 3-0 up in the eighth minute but missed another attempt a few minutes later.
The ‘Boks were rattled and captain Jean de Villiers was angry when fullback Zane Kirchner kicked the ball out on the full from outside his 22 handing the Japanese great field position.
The South Africans managed to regain the ball and pressed back.
Some terrific defence kept them out for a while, although Japanese captain Michael Leitch received a warning for an over zealous tackle on De Villiers, but eventually they cracked and Francois Louw went over.
The South Africans spurned a golden opportunity for a second try a couple of minutes later but a diving Bismarck du Plessis failed to catch the ball and touch down – his embarrassment accentuated by having the whole thing shown again as it was referred to the third match official.
Du Plessis’s glaring miss proved even more costly as after sustained pressure by the Japanese scrum Leitch touched down provoking roars of delight from their fans and large parts of the neutrals in the 30,000 crowd.
Goromaru converted to give the Japanese a deserved 10-7 lead.
It wasn’t to last long as more powerful pack play ended with Bismarck du Plessis scoring the ‘Boks second try – Lambie failing to convert gave the two-time world champions a two point edge at half-time of 12-10.
Goromaru briefly restored Japan’s lead with an early penalty in the second-half.
However, their opponents hit back with a third try soon afterwards, lock Loudewyjk de Jager breaking a tackle on the 22 and proving an unstoppable force to cross the line – Lambie converted for 19-13.
The impressive Goromaru added two more penalties to level the match with under half an hour remaining and at that point with a tacit admission the scrum was taking a pounding Heyneke Meyer took off his whole front row.
Lambie slotted over a penalty to make it 22-19 but back came the incorrigible Japanese to level again through the metronomic Goromaru.
The match once gain swung back to the Springboks, however, when replacement hooker Adriaan Strauss broke through the soft Japanese centre and shrugged off with disdain Kotaro Matsushima’s tackle to score their bonus point fourth try.
Handre Pollard – who had replaced Lambie – converted for 29-22.
If the Springboks thought that was the final say they were soon to be disabused of the notion as a scintillating back move saw Goromaru go in and then convert to bring the scores level once again at 29-29.