Japan head coach Jamie Joseph praised “the courage and the tenacity” of his men following their quarter-final defeat at the hands of South Africa, adding that he was “proud” of what the side has achieved on home soil.
The hosts made history in reaching the last eight of this Rugby World Cup, becoming the first Asian side to do so after winning all four of their Pool A fixtures.
But up against the Springboks, Japan’s journey in the competition was brought to a heartbreaking end, losing 26-3 in Tokyo.
Despite defeat, the Brave Blossoms have captured the imagination of the public here in Japan, and endeared themselves to millions within the game thanks to their ambitious, spirited style of rugby which consigned both Scotland and Ireland to defeat in the group stages.
“I am so proud of my team, the courage and the tenacity and I take my hat off to the team,” said Jones afterwards. “And I take my hat off to the fans, they have been marvellous.
“We are proud with what we have achieved, we will accept that but I am disappointed for the players because they have given so much to the country and the World Cup.”
Japan captain Michael Leitch echoed the sentiments of his coach.
“Rugby is all about creating moments and taking opportunities,” he said. “We had a few opportunities to capitalise on but unfortunately South Africa kicked us out.
“Congratulations to the South African team, they played their A game and played it very well, so I wish them all the best of luck in the rest of their games.
“I’m extremely proud of what this team have done. To represent Asia and the two tier countries, I’m sure they’ll be proud of us as well. Japan is only going to get stronger.”
Makazole Mapimpi bagged a brace and Faf De Klerk also raced in over the course of 80 minutes in the Japanese capital, with Handre Pollard posting 11 points off the tee as South Africa squeezed the life out of their opponents.
The game was not without controversy, though. South Africa’s Tendai Mtawarira was lucky to escape a red card after upending Keita Inagaki midway through the first-half.
But referee Wayne Barnes reached immediately for a yellow card, opting not to refer the decision to Television Match Official (TMO) Rowan Kitt, allowing Mtawarira to return to action after 10 minutes.
“We stuck to it for 80 minutes, the first half the yellow card killed us,” said Pollard afterwards. “We still managed to go in with the lead and knew if we kept being able to impose ourselves physically eventually they would break.
“We knew if we kept hammering away the points would come. It’s always tough playing the host nation, the boys handled that well, but it’s back to the drawing board on Monday.”
The Boks will now face Warren Gatland’s Wales in Yokohama on Sunday, in a bid to reach their first final since 2007.
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