TOWNSVILLE, Australia — Japan may have lost its second game in the 2003 Rugby World Cup but the Cherry Blossoms produced a performance against France that surpassed even their heroics of last week when they lost to Scotland, but won over a nation.
To score 29 points against one of the top rugby nations in the world was an outstanding performance and one that coach Shogo Mukai claimed was perhaps the finest Japan has ever produced.
The final scoreline showed that France won 51-29 but judging by the applause that greeted Japan at the end of the game there was only one winner and it wasn’t the men in blue.
“There were more Japanese flags here than I have ever seen in Tokyo,” said Japan captain Takuro Miuchi.
“I have never experienced such noise in a stadium and I would like to thank the Japanese fans who traveled here and the locals who have been so kind to us.”
The game was very similar to last Sunday’s with the Japanese conceding two early soft tries but a superb try by George Konia, that will be one of the contenders for try of the tournament come Nov. 22, and four penalties from Toru Kurihara saw Japan close to 20-19 with 35 minutes left to play.
In the end the French power proved too much for their smaller opponents but a wonderful try from Daisuke Ohata ensured the crowd went home happy as the Japanese did everything that was asked of them and more.
Flyhalf Andy Miller made the much-vaunted Serge Betsen and Olivier Magne seem like club players at times, varying the play as Japan looked to attack from every opportunity; Miuchi, Okubo and Adam Parker cleaned up every loose ball that came their way; while a huge roar went up every time wings Ohata and Hirotoki Onozawa touched the ball.
“The Japanese had good hands and were very fast,” said France captain Fabien Galthie, who will be relieved that his team was able to pick up a bonus point for the six tries they scored.
Wing Aurelien Rougerie was the star of the French using his brute strength to score two tries, while Frederic Michalak had his kicking boots on putting over five conversions and three penalties as Les Bleus eventually used their big-match experience to take the game by the scruff of the neck.
“Hopefully today’s result will enable Japan to start playing such games on a regular basis,” said Konia.
“The players need more exposure to higher level rugby and together with the Top League games like today will enable Japanese players to get even better.”
For now the players need to regroup for their game against Fiji on Thursday but the general consensus among the journalists from around the world that clapped the Japanese players as they entered the press conference after the game, was that Japan could very well end the tournament with two wins.
“It is very regretful that we lost but we made the French struggle,” said Miuchi.
“A performance like today’s from a lower-ranked country such as Japan against a side like France is great for the future of Japanese rugby and for all the people associated with the sport in Japan.”
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