Japan stun South Africa in biggest upset in RWC history

10:45 am on 20 September 2015

Japan caused the biggest upset in Rugby World Cup history as New Zealand born replacement Karne Hesketh scored a dramatic last-minute try to beat two-time winners South Africa 34-32 in their opening Pool B match.

The Japan rugby captain New Zealander Michael Leitch.

The Japan rugby captain New Zealander Michael Leitch. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Japan players and fans shed tears of joy at the end of a thrilling encounter that ebbed and flowed, but victory was fully deserved after a tenacious performance by the underdogs at the Brighton Community Stadium.

The former Otago and Napier Boys High winger Hesketh, who came off the bench for the Brave Blossoms, raced in at the corner in the 84th minute to snatch victory from a pulsating contest in the Pool B opener.

South Africa had sounded a note of caution ahead of the game, but few, if any, would have predicted defeat at the hands of an opponent that had previously won only once in 24 World Cup outings.

The Boks outscored Japan four tries to three, but the kicking of fullback Ayumu Goromaru, who also scored a try for a personal 24-point tally, kept Japan in the contest to set up a remarkable last eight minutes of pressure under which the Boks finally buckled.

"We've worked for this for the last four years," victorious captain New Zealander Michael Leitch said immediately after the game.

Ferocious tacking from Japan kept them within two points of the Springboks at half-time after driving mauls brought tries for South Africa's Francois Louw and Bismarck du Plessis, with number eight and captain New Zealander Michael Leitch touching down for Japan.

The reliable boot of fullback Ayumu Goromaru nudged Japan in front early in the second half, but that was quickly cancelled out by a try from South African lock Lood De Jager.

Both sides exchanged a series of penalties before Springboks snatched another try as replacement front rower Adriaan Strauss burst through the defence.

But then Japan found space out wide, sending Goromaru in at the corner with his conversion levelling the scores.

Another Springbok penalty looked like breaking Japanese hearts before Hesketh grabbed the winner in overtime.

The Brave Blossoms captain Leitch, who plays Super Rugby for the Chiefs, says the win was the result of four years hard work and while it was somewhat of a surprise, his side knew they were capable of an upset.

Earlier this morning Georgia recorded just their third Rugby World Cup win with a 17-10 upset over Tonga in their Pool C opener in Gloucester before Six Nations champions Ireland trounced Canada 50-7 in Cardiff.