Former Wallabies mentor Eddie Jones has masterminded the most stunning result in Rugby World Cup history, guiding Japan to an incredible upset of heavyweights South Africa.
Jones, who guided the Wallabies to the 2003 World Cup final and was a member of the Springboks coaching staff for their 2007 triumph, said the extraordinary 34-32 win on Saturday was a career highlight.
“For me personally its right up there with my best days in the sport,” Jones said.
“Japan beating South Africa? I had to look at the scoreboard at the end just to see if it was true or not.”
The seesawing contest was not sealed until a desperate 82nd-minute try to replacement back Karne Hesketh on the far left-hand side of the field.
When the New Zealand-born Hesketh crossed it sparked jubilant celebrations in the stands, with fans weeping and Jones beaming at Japan’s second World Cup win – and first since 1991.
“We kept hanging in there. It looked at one stage when they got seven points ahead that they would run away with it,” he said.
“That would have been the normal scenario, like the horror story where the woman goes for a shower after midnight and you know what’s going to happen.
“Normally they would score three or four, it ends up 50-20 and everyone says, ‘Well done Japan, you tried hard, you were brave’. But we were more than brave.”
Exhausted players embraced as the final conversion sailed wide from Ayumu Goromaru, who had a personal haul of 24 points through five penalties, two conversions and a try.
“So is it a miracle? I don’t know, it has just happened,” Jones said.
“I’ve coached for 20 years and never worked so hard. That’s why I said at the beginning I’m too old for this and should be in Barbados watching cricket.”
Jones insisted Japan still had a quarter-final goal in their sights and couldn’t resist a subtle dig at his old sparring partner Sir Clive Woodward, whose England defeated the Wallabies in the 2003 decider.
“We’re not done yet mate, we’ve come here with two objectives, beat a top team and also make the quarter-finals. Then I can retire and I can be like Clive Woodward,” he said with a grin.
Wallabies great George Gregan said the win had all the hallmarks of a Jones-coached side.
“It had his paw prints, it had his coaching style – it had his mentality. It had Eddie Jones’ attitude,” said Gregan, the Wallabies skipper during the Jones era.
“He goes into every contest as well prepared as possible and he instils belief into every player that plays for him.
“That was exhibited by this Japanese team today. An incredible result.”
Japan attacked from the opening whistle, and opened the scoring through a penalty to Goromaru.
Throughout the first half the Cherry Blossoms repelled wave after wave of Springbok attack – but went into halftime down 12-10 following a late try to hooker Bismarck Du Plessis.
Sensing the upset was on offer, the Spingboks hit back hard to start the second half, with giant second-rower Lodewyk De Jager splitting the defence.
But advance made by South Africa was met by renewed efforts from Japan – who hit back with a string of penalty kicks before a superbly constructed try to Goromaru with ten minutes to play levelled the scores.
A penalty goal gave South Africa a three-point buffer before Japan’s memorable final stand.