Three days later and the shock waves from Japan’s win against South Africa continue to ripple far beyond the shores of the genteel and chic coastal town of Brighton which now finds itself enshrined in rugby folklore.
Phillipe Saint-Andre heard the news about ten minutes before his French side took to the Twickenham field for their opener against Italy, but decided against spreading the word.
It was hours later before his players knew, but few others have succeeded in stemming the story. World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper tweeted yesterday that one of the official Rugby World Cup stores in Central London had to be shut down such was the rush on merchandise from eager Japanese consumers.
In Gloucester, Scotland players and their coach Vern Cotter handled countless questions about the Brave Blossoms – who they will face in Kingsholm tomorrow. An unprecedented state of affairs when it comes to media events before match-ups between tier one and two nations. Jonathan Sexton was quizzed on it on Sunday evening and Romania coach Lynn Howells mirrored the Irish out-half’s take yesterday when suggesting that it had “definitely scared the bigger teams to not take us or any of the smaller nations too easy”.
Saint-Andre was less dramatic in suggesting that, New Zealand aside, there was “no difference” between the second and twelfth-ranked sides in the world, although Japan’s unexpected win sent that particular ladder into some unexpected turmoil. The biggest change, however, has been back home.
“Apparently rugby is on the news now, which is unusual in Japan,” said Japan coach Eddie Jones.
The hardest chapter has yet to be written. Jones spoke on Saturday about how Japan had targeted a quarter-final berth ahead of the 2019 gig which they are due to host and he added yesterday that they have rehearsed this short turnaround three times.
Maybe, but Scotland centre Mark Bennett said what everyone was thinking when he said there may be some sore bodies in the Japanese ranks even if Jones has made six changes. Two new props, a replacement lock and a different number eight have been brought in to freshen up the pack, though the front row is now down 46 caps in experience. There has also been a pair of positional changes out back, but the real task tomorrow may be mental as much as physical.
The entirety of Japan’s playing and supports staffs will have been infected by the deliriousness of that opening win. The eyes of the world are on them now as well. Expectation can be a heavy load. “That’s always a risk,” said Jones, “but we’ve got good leadership. (Captain, Michael) Leitch is doing a fantastic job. We met (Sunday), spoke about it and the message has been sent within the team. We didn’t come here to be a splash in the pond. We want to make a go at this World Cup.” That bullishness has been a Jones trademark for a long time now, but he is a smart and experienced operator who has surrounded himself with excellent assistants, all of whom did their reputations considerable good last weekend.
Marc Dal Maso, the former French international, delivered a scrum that was rock solid, England’s Steve Borthwick a lineout that astounded and Welshman Leigh Jones a defence that fought before yielding an inch.
Jones threw quite the few warning shots at the Scots yesterday with his suggestion that the Six Nations side’s mauling and high-punting game may not make for the prettiest of contests. “It’s interesting that before the tournament Scotland said we were going to tank the first game,” said Jones who stands down after the tournament. “So if we did tank the first game we’ve got a good performance coming up in our second.”
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