Well, nobody was expecting that, we’re they? Who thought Georgia would look so comfortable against Tonga?
In the aftermath, of what happened later, the result has been lost, but there’s no better place to start than at the beginning!
An early start, a hotel breakfast and a stroll around the Lanes in Brighton, we spotted the U.S. team coach outside their hotel. With no players around, and none to embarrass myself in front of, we kept moving.
Just after 11, we headed for a pub, The Cricketers (obviously) to settle in to watch the first of the four games. The poor girl at the bar clearly wasn’t ready for rugby questions at an early hour but we managed to help her get the big screen in place and the TV working minutes before the anthems. See, rugby is all about teamwork!
There was quite a crowd in the pub buy you could sense nobody was really watching. I was, as much as possible, and what I saw was two teams in Georgia and Tonga that knew this result was vital if they were going to proceed in the competition. The power of the two teams was evident and there were some impressive hits but all too often the final pass was lacking, or a silly mistake crept in. Georgia won, and didn’t look too uncomfortable ultimately, but the result could’ve been much different if not for a tight forward pass and a fumble over the line by Tonga. Such small margins.
By this point we’d been met by our friends, tucked into some lunch and decided to watch the anthems in the Ireland v Canada match before heading to the stadium to catch the second half before the big event! My friend Nora is a big ice hockey fan and even though she’s American, she knew all the words to Oh Canada, which was lucky when the TV sound cut out and she was able to finish it for us!
The organisation at Brighton station seemed very haphazard. We were shepherded into a queue for the station, but weren’t told we couldn’t buy tickets from that queue. Given we were heading to the stadium very early, and they should be used to the crowds form the football, nobody seemed to have a proper idea what was going on.
At Falmer station we followed the crowd to the “Brighton Community Stadium” and made our way inside. The atmosphere was already building in the concourses. There were a lot more green shirts than I expected but the Japanese were there in numbers, too, with (of course) every neutral hoping for Japan to keep it close. I was wearing my Japan shirt, purchased mostly due to the fact that I liked the shirt, one of my favourites of this World Cup.
There was an excellent crowd and the game started brightly. Japan were like a swarm and we’re all over SA. It seemed only a matter of time though before SA broke through and the Boks around us knew it. They were very cocky. In the first half, the South Africans were attacking the end we were at. The girl behind us stated that the second half would be boring as we wouldn’t see any action up our end! How wrong she was, and when she disappeared with 10 minutes to go, she reminded me of this stadium’s usual inhabitants!
The Japanese were terrific and never gave up. The try in front of us was a great move but even then we thought they’d tire. What looked like being a gallant defeat turned into the most stunning result in World Cup history in the last few minutes. The atmosphere was electric, the Springboks around us were getting very tetchy and even a little aggressive. It’s not “rugby”, but boy was it great to see!
Japan should be commended for their sheer bravery. A penalty and three points would’ve bought a draw, an amazing result in itself, but the belief to go for it all was brilliant and really won the crowd’s affections.
That they kept calm under pressure, and pulled it off, was just the cherry on the icing on the cake!
The exodus when Japan scored by those in green shirts was a little disrespectful. Whilst the win was great for everyone, and a tough loss for them, you have to appreciate you’d witnessed one of the greatest sporting upsets ever. I applauded the good moves from the Springboks, appreciated their tries and enjoyed the match. I know it’s different as a non-neutral but let’s not pretend the pictures you’ve seen of Boks hugging Blossoms was the norm!
Super Saturday was already pretty amazing. Would we have a Spectacular Sunday?
Back in the city, we headed for the same pub and the number of South Africans around appeared to have decreased. Dramatically. I’d have probably had an early night, too, rather than face the music!
The France and Italy match had an air of after the Lord Mayor’s Show. It wasn’t so much the dirt cart, but the first half sure wasn’t pretty – France let the Italians lose the game rather than trying to win it. Thankfully the second half opened up and we saw some dangerous running rugby from the French. It’ll be interesting to see if they click during this World Cup!
Walking home after a late, late dinner and a lovely little whisky, my wife said to me “I still can’t believe Japan won. They did, didn’t they?”
Yes. They certainly did win, and they won more than just a rugby match.