Japan’s shock 34-32 win over two-time world champions South Africa is the greatest moment in Rugby World Cup history, the coach of England’s victorious 2003 side Clive Woodward said on Monday.
Woodward, who got the better of current Japan coach and the then Australia handler Eddie Jones in the 2003 final in Sydney, writing in his Daily Mail column, said a combination of “belief and courage” combined with clever coaching could make any dream come true.
“Japan’s win over South Africa, engineered by my old mate and sparring partner Eddie Jones, is the greatest single moment in World Cup history and arguably the most important development the modern game has ever seen,” wrote Woodward.
“To use the technical term it was bloody marvellous.
“It was a performance of breathtaking brilliance and courage and also a coaching coup of thrilling panache which sends out a message to the entire sporting world, not just rugby.
“Underdogs can become world beaters if you truly believe,” added the 59-year-old, whose side won the 2003 World Cup in dramatic fashion with a drop goal by English superstar Jonny Wilkinson in the dying seconds of extra-time
Woodward, who is now a well-paid and respected pundit, had his verbal tussles with Jones down the years when he was coaching, not least during the 2003 campaign but the Englishman said that was largely for show.
“Eddie is a very engaging and bright guy, great company who calls a spade a spade,” said Woodward.
“Of all the coaches I ever tangled with, Eddie was — and clearly still is — absolutely the best in terms of maximising the talent he has available and thinking outside the box.”
Jones quipped after the victory that he was too old at 55 still to be coaching, and reaching the quarter-finals would allow him to retire and be like Clive Woodward sitting in the comfort of a studio.
Also writing in the Daily Mail, Jones said he was delighted that his instruction to kick a penalty in the final minute to force a draw had been ignored by his captain Michael Leitch.
“I tried to get the message down to take the kick at goal,” wrote Jones, who is half Japanese through his mother.
“Luckily, by the time the message got to the players the decision to kick for touch had already been taken! I thought to myself, ‘fair enough, here we go!'”
Jones, who is due to step down from his post after the campaign is over and has been strongly linked with a coaching role at a South African Super Rugby side, said emotions had risen to the surface when Karne Hesketh went over in the left hand corner to score the winning try.
“It was the most emotional I’ve been since coaching the Wallabies to a semi-final win over the All Blacks at the 2003 World Cup semi-finals,” said Jones.
“I’ve never seen more grown men in tears. It was an absolutely unbelievable scene which will live with me for the rest of my life.”
Jones, who used his knowledge of several of the Springbok players to his advantage, having been an adviser to the 2007 World Cup-winning side, said that Japanese emotions still bemused him.
“I’ll never cease to wonder at the Japanese psyche,” said Jones.
“These guys seem to cry when they’re happy and laugh when they’re nervous — it’s almost the opposite of Western behaviour — and the tears were flooding out on the pitch.”