YOKOHAMA – Japan defeated Scotland for the first time in the Rugby World Cup on Sunday.
But that may have been the team’s most minor accomplishment at International Stadium Yokohama.
Much more importantly, the Brave Blossoms are taking their fans to new territory: the knockout stage.
Many in attendance erupted into joy after the host nation’s 28-21 win in the final Pool A game on Sunday night.
“I’m extremely happy,” said 30-year-old fan Kohei Miyaji, who came to the game with his father Haruo, outside of the stadium minutes after Japan’s historic accomplishment. “I thought Japan was on its way to win it, but Scotland’s always a competitive team in history and did bounce back (with two consecutive tries in the second half). I felt numb in the final 30 minutes.
“I was like, ‘What’s going to happen? Is this going to be a draw? No, we want to win out.’ So it felt great Japan ended up winning.”
Haruo said that Japan edged the Europeans partially thanks to the massive crowd support that came with home advantage.
“To be honest, I thought it was going to end in a draw (at 28 all),” the 61-year-old said. “But Japan got the boost from its fans and I think that it was how they earned the win.”
The fans this reporter talked to were unanimous in not having anticipated before the tournament that the Brave Blossoms would go 4-0 in the pool stage. But many, like Haruo, insisted that the accomplishment was achieved thanks to Japan’s home support.
“I think Japan has been able to play as well as they have because they are playing in Japan,” said Takashi Tsukuda, who came with his wife. “There are always supporters behind them and they kept cheering on the team even when it was struggling on the field.”
Kansai McIlroy, another Japanese who is a quarter Scottish, is a two-decade-plus rugby fan who remembers Japan’s struggles at past World Cups. The 37-year-old public employee gave credit to Japan for continuing to attack even after they allowed the two second-half tries to Scotland.
“I started playing rugby when I was in elementary school and played for about seven years,” said McIlroy, who watched the game with his uncle-in-law. “I’ve been watching rugby for about 20 years. But (Japan advancing to the knockout round) is an unthinkable result, considering their performances at past tournaments. However, this is a result of their hard work, and I don’t consider it a coincidence.”
Japan has met its goal of reaching the the final eight at the World Cup. But some fans on Sunday were eager to press their luck, suggesting Japan could advance deeper into the tournament.
“I thought it was going to be tough to beat Ireland, but they did,” McIlroy said of Japan, which will take on South Africa in the quarterfinals on Sunday in Tokyo. “I would like them to go as far as they can. I think they could even go to the final because they’ve qualified in their pool in first place.”
Likewise, Kohei Miyaji hopes Japan can win at least one more so that it would “not be said that the team was already satisfied” with its final-eight result.
“I would like them to show the world that this is a result they’ve genuinely earned on their own,” the Yokohama native said.
A group of four Scottish fans, all wearing kilts, walked out of the stadium looking disappointed but offered plenty of praise to Japan for outplaying their country.
“(Japan) played a lot of speed and tenacity and skills,” one of them said. “I’d love to see (Japan) go on to the final, perhaps even win the final. That would be great for rugby and great for Japanese rugby.”