The Springboks’ 34-32 loss to Japan in their opening match in the Rugby World Cup in Brighton on Saturday was not a death sentence. Extenuations and pointed-fingers plaster the headlines in South Africa in desperate attempts to initiate the blame-game to someone in Heyneke Meyer’s South African camp – the coach himself on the bullseye too.
While there were some underwhelming performances, it’s safe to say that the Springboks were outsmarted and outplayed by Eddie Jones and the Japanese side – particularly the individuals in the team. Despite Jones screaming down his radio for the side to go for poles down to secure a draw, Japanese captain Michael Leitch made the brash decision to go for the try in the dying seconds – having a shot at immortality in the record books. That kind of undaunted confidence is exactly what the sport needs.
Of course, Japan managed to score and in the process bagged themselves the scalp of the No. 2 team in the world the very-first time they played them in a Test match. Yip, Japan’s current win record over South Africa is 100%.
Statistics aside, it’s great that the Japanese side are getting the praise they deserve. Victories like the Cherry Blossom’s transcend beyond sport and remind us that sometimes it’s worth taking that brave, 1-in-a-million shot, and that, sometimes, the little guy can trump the giant.
As for the Springboks, the witchhunt which has riled up the public isn’t therapeutic, effective, or a solution to the current state of grief that many find themselves in. Being a supporter of a sports team isn’t about celebrating the euphoric victories, it’s about patting your team on the back and saying “you’ll get ’em next time” when things aren’t going so well.
For a little history lesson, England lost their opening game 36-0 in the 2007 Rugby World Cup to none-other than the Springboks. England made it to the final. In 2011, France lost a crucial pool game to Tonga (a shock-win as pivotal as what happened on Saturday), yet Les Bleus took to the field in Eden Park to play the All Blacks in the final.
Yes, it’s the best scenario to win all your games in a World Cup campaign, completely dominating every side you encounter. But faltering at the first hurdle and working your way back in it to make it all the way is just as valiant, if not more.