Japan coach Jamie Joseph toasted the “never-say-die” attitude of his players after the Rugby World Cup hosts thrashed Samoa 38-19 to move to the brink of the quarter-finals.
The former All Black expressed pride after the Brave Blossoms made it three out of three in Pool A with a bonus-point win on Saturday that left them dreaming of making history.
Asked about the pressure on Japan, who beat Russia (30-10) before stunning Ireland (19-12) in their first two games, Joseph called for perspective.
“Look, I’ve got to put everybody straight — we’ve got a really awesome opportunity to do something that’s never been done before.
“A week ago, no one thought we could beat Ireland — now they think we can win every game. That’s how silly it is.”
Tries by Samoan-born Timothy Lafaele, Kazuki Himeno, Kenki Fukuoka and Kotaro Matsushima in Toyota, plus 18 points from the boot of Yu Tamura, put Japan in control of their own destiny.
However, Scotland lurk in a crunch fixture in Yokohama next weekend with the winners likely to progress, although the Six Nations side’s short turnaround could prove key.
Japan won three games at the 2015 World Cup under Eddie Jones and still failed to reach the knockout phase — a fact not lost on Joseph.
“It’s game by game,” he said. “It was always going to come down to the final match and it’s building up to be a real ripper.
“It’s the first time Japan’s ever got themselves in the position where they can top the pool, so it’s new territory for us,” added Joseph.
“But Scotland are a very, very good team with a lot of experience, a lot of X-factor and we saw how clinical they were beating Samoa last week.”
– ‘Bit frantic’ –
Japan struggled against Samoa’s physicality as the Pacific islanders came out with a point to prove after being crushed 34-0 by the Scots.
“It’s definitely going to be a tough one,” said winger Lomano Lemeki, looking ahead to next weekend.
AFP / Anne-Christine POUJOULAT
Japan’s head coach Jamie Joseph believes Japan have an “awesome opportunity” to make history
“But for the winner of this pool, it doesn’t get easier — you play New Zealand or South Africa.”
The hosts could also consider themselves fortunate that lock James Moore avoided a yellow card for a late hit on full-back Tim Nanai-Williams at the end of a tight first half.
“We were a bit frantic in the first half,” admitted Joseph.
“But we showed incredible belief and worked to the very end.”
Joseph believes the Brave Blossoms have captured the hearts of a nation traditionally more interested in baseball and football.
While every refereeing decision flashes up on the stadium screens with a bite-sized explanation, Japan’s breathless rugby has indeed caught the public’s imagination.
The noise when poster boy Matsushima darted in for Japan’s bonus-point try in added time — his fourth of the tournament and 10th in his last nine Tests — was ear-splitting.
“The Japanese public are really behind the team,” beamed Joseph. “It makes us very proud. We’re playing for 125 million people — most of them don’t normally support rugby and they’re right behind us.”