Japan's dream is over but memories of their inspiring home ride will long live on. When initial disappointment fades, pride will again rise.

The legacy of this group is gripping those well outside their borders with a captivating brand of rugby that carried them all the way to the Rugby World Cup knockouts for the first time. That, alone, can never be taken away. Not by the Springboks, not by anyone.

Premium gold

Those who witnessed Japan's uplifting upsets of Scotland and Ireland will not forget their heroic feats. Reaching this point was beyond the expectations of all but those within Jamie Joseph's team.

Even with their side clearly destined for defeat, the enthusiasm of locals here could not be dimmed. Chants of "Nippon, Nippon" reverberated right until the finish.


In the end Japan's final match concluded in rather predictable fashion.

As if beating down on a pesky younger brother or slowly crushing an insect with their oversized foot, the might of the Springboks slowly turned the screws to book their spot in the semifinals. They will arrive their confident of progression, having only lost their opening game to the All Blacks.

Japan competed with the spirit of the samurais, as they have all tournament. Passion again oozed from within a heaving Tokyo Stadium but the Boks were always going to prove too big, too strong.

In typical South African style this was a clinical smothering. They led 5-3 at halftime but then scored two second-half tries to kick well clear, with Faf de Klerk controlling the tempo from the base.

South Africa's Faf de Klerk celebrates with Damian de Allende after scoring a try against Japan. Photo / AP
South Africa's Faf de Klerk celebrates with Damian de Allende after scoring a try against Japan. Photo / AP

The Boks ground Japan down with their maul, with high hoists to the corners and accumulation through Handre Pollard's boot.

Such sustained pressure proved too much, and the Boks will now be favoured to push past Wales and secure a place in the finale.

This was a match that pitted Japan's speed and unrelenting ambition against South Africa's traditional brute strengths. The Boks successfully scrummed for penalties. They attacked the Japanese lineout and breakdown, the latter in numbers to counter Japan's lethal ruck speed.

South Africa's physicality, their pure size advantage, proved difficult to combat. Defensively the Boks are a supremely organised tough nut for even the best nations to crack.


Japan, conversely, continued to be the great hyperactive entertainers. Once again they embraced their frantic offloading game. It didn't always come off but it did suck South Africa in at times.

Springboks centre Lukhanyo Am blew one sure try after a terrible offload to his wing, Makazole Mapimpi, who bagged a brace. Am also threw one wild pass in front of his sticks that almost went horribly wrong.

Springboks wing Makazole Mapimpi heading for the line to score. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Springboks wing Makazole Mapimpi heading for the line to score. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Against Scotland every pass, every offload, every bounce-through of the ball fell Japan's way. That wasn't the case this time. They were made to work infinitely harder for points, coming away with just the three, despite periods of sustained attack.

Japan tried everything to breach South Africa's line. Cross-field kicks, chips, inside balls. Tony Brown had worked up the playbook. The tactics were there, the accuracy lacking.

The way this tournament has been officiated, Springboks prop Tendai Mtawarira was, perhaps, fortunate not to be shown a red card after 10 minutes for his spear tackle on opposite Keita Inagaki.

Wayne Barnes whipped out a yellow card so quickly that none of his assisting officials could advise otherwise.

Referee Wayne Barnes. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Referee Wayne Barnes. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The reality, though, is the Boks are on a different level to Japan.

Such a statement should not diminish Japan's historic tournament, rather it underlines how far they have come to reach this juncture.

Four years from now, who knows what they may achieve.

South Africa 26 (Makazole Mapimpi 2, Faf de Klerk tries; Handre Pollard conversion, 3 penalties)
Japan 3 (Yu Tamura penalty)
HT: 5-3

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