Miracles like Japan's Cherry Blossoms beating the South African Springboks are why we watch sport

The sporting event of the year isn't what you might think

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The Independent Online

The sporting event of the weekend was not at Twickenham, where England opened the Rugby World Cup with a battling  victory over Fiji; nor Stamford Bridge, where Diego Costa played a major part in having two Arsenal players sent off during Chelsea’s 2-0 victory; it wasn’t the Solheim Cup (the women’s Ryder Cup) golf in Germany, where players on both sides were left in tears because someone picked up a ball in error. The Singapore Grand Prix, where Lewis Hamilton was beaten to pole? Not even close.

No, something special took place in that hotbed of rugby union fervour, Brighton. There, in overtime, during the most thrilling match that many who have watched and played all our lives have ever seen, Japan’s Cherry Blossoms upset the mighty South African Springboks 34-32 in the biggest shock in rugby history.

It wasn’t just the shock result that reminded us of the thrilling release from daily drudgery sport can provide and the near-spiritual emotional investment it can reward – it was the manner of it. When so much of top-level sport is predictable; when casual viewers don’t even bother with early-stage tournament matches because they are so one-sided and the big, rich teams usually win, Japan broke the unwritten rules.

It’s difficult not to resort to clichés: “reaching for the stars”, “minnows”, “David and Goliath”, “giant-killers”, “sporting earthquake”. Japan were supposed to be the “plucky losers” of yet another familiar cliché.

As Japan’s coach Eddie Jones said: we all know what follows in the movie when the woman “steps into the shower at midnight”. But his team didn’t follow the script.

Even better, Japan decided to transcend “remarkable” and reach for “incredible”, by declining the relatively simple penalty that would ensure an entirely unforeseen draw, to go for an extremely risky winning try.

And they did it! Small wonder then that fans, Japanese and neutrals alike, were crying tears of joy. As the rugby great Jonny Wilkinson struggled to find the words. Jonah Lomu, the legendary All Black, nailed it: “this is why we watch and play sport”.

For me, this was bigger than sport. It was a victory for all who are told “they can’t”; for those told to play it safe; for the unstoppable force that collective desire can be. For a few moments in Brighton, the Japanese rugby team became superhuman, rising above what the world thought was the limits of their dreams.

The rugby fan JK Rowling tweeted “you couldn’t write this”, but for once the wonderful Rowling was wrong. Scripts like this are written frequently in Hollywood, but we disdain their schmaltz and lack of credibility. The difference is that when it actually happens, it isn’t schmaltzy, it’s thrilling and life-enhancing. Arigato, Japan.

 

 

 

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