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Ravenhill , Belfast Referee: South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer apologised to his country. Back they came again, smashing it up and causing increasing panic in opposition ranks. Jonathan Kaplan South Africa. South Africa vs. Japan Preview

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It was David v Goliath but we have been training for this day for the last four years. We have worked extremely hard, all the coaching staff and the players, but it was a full-on team effort. We came out here to do a job and, like I said, we have been training for this for that past four years.

I know the whole world is surprised, but in our camp we knew we could do it. South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer apologised to his country. It was unacceptable and I take full responsibility. They could easily have gone for the penalty. They went for the scrum, which should be a South Africa strength. It seemed lost, as it looked -- momentarily -- as if South Africa turned the ball over.

But Japan still had possession, and in the blink of an eye the ball was whizzed from right to left as the creaking Springbok line finally cracked. As Hesketh was mobbed by his teammates in the corner, South Africa sat head in hands, towels on heads, as the crushing disappointment sank in. A Springbok side packed with test caps was expected to make a statement of intent with an early and convincing win against Japan.

But Japan's confidence soared as the majority of the crowd threw their backing behind the most outside of outsiders. It wasn't good enough by a long shot," De Villiers said. Japan forced the Springboks into frequent mistakes from the get-go.

Pride stung, South Africa overlooked a chance to kick for points when awarded a penalty in the 17th minute and earned the try they sought to flanker Louw.

But amazingly, Japan bullied South Africa in the maul, and used it to carry Leitch over for Only a minute later, Du Plessis crossed for South Africa to lead at the interval, but they had little to cheer. Japan regained the lead through a penalty after the restart, but moments later, De Jager broke through a poor tackle to sprint over the line.

South Africa was back in front at Maybe now they would kick on. No, mistakes in defence kept cropping up, and Goromaru slotted over two penalties to level the score. They swapped more penalties, then replacement hooker Strauss bounced off three players and crossed between the posts.

But Japan brushed it off, and a brilliantly intricate four-man passing move ended with Goromaru darting into the right corner. Out of a clear blue English sky came a thunderbolt to eclipse anything the Rugby World Cup has ever seen. This was the biggest shock in rugby history, bar none, the kind of result that creates ripples beyond mere sport. If there is a contest even half as extraordinary between now and the end of October, this tournament will have been truly blessed.

The Brave Blossoms were more than gallant; from start to finish they were utterly sensational. Brighton, hitherto a football town, rocked like never before as the Japanese took a vastly experienced South Africa team to the edge of reason and beyond.

Until the closing seconds it seemed they might fall agonisingly short, only for their New Zealand-born replacement wing Karne Hesketh to dive over in the corner in the final move of the game to clinch a supposedly impossible triumph. Crazy does not begin to cover it. There are not enough words to praise the effort of the Japanese players, not least their outstanding full-back Ayumu Goromaru who scored 24 points, or their head coach Eddie Jones.

The pack, wonderfully led by skipper Michael Leitch, were inspired from start to finish, the midfield tigerish, the whole occasion almost surreal. If any coach, Tier 1 or otherwise, ever needs to prove to a team they can confound all odds, he or she now has the proof. The implications for Pool B could be immense, although the tournament schedule now requires Japan to face Scotland at Kingsholm on Wednesday.

Can they conceivably replenish their batteries in four days?