VICTORY ROAD

It’s hard to put into words just how amazing that performance was from Japan, but considering the way they played against Ireland and their ranking one place above Scotland prior to kick-off, it would be an injustice to call it an upset. Japan look to be entirely at home battling it out with the top tier of nations. Perhaps the southern hemisphere championship will have to expand to five teams next year to admit a most worthy member from the north. The Brave Blossoms definitely belong at the top table.

Last night was dazzling. Japan answered all questions asked of them with an assurance belying their pre-tournament underdog status. A combination of electric pace from Matsushima and Fukuoka, ferocious tackling and defence spearheaded by a rampant Leitch, an almost nonchalant calm under pressure by replacement scrum-half Tanaka, and immaculate ball-handling and offloads from the whole team throughout saw the Japanese through to the quarter-finals at the top of Group A. Absolutely nobody is questioning their right to be there now.

Scotland played extremely well themselves. They flew out of the blocks, scoring an early Russell try to put the match at a virtual 0-0 within the first ten minutes. The Japanese did not flinch. Instead, a lightning strike down the wing culminating in a diving pass from Fukuoka to release Matsushima brought them level.

The next try was a thing of beauty, made and finished by the forwards, breaking out of tackles, sidestepping and last-gasp offloading until Inagaki got over right between the posts

The third was a hammer blow for Scotland just before half-time as a kick through the line ended up in Fukuoka’s hands. Nobody was catching him. The second half started with another try, Fukuoka this time expertly ripping the ball from Scotland and catching it before turning on the afterburners to soar through the defence and under the posts.

Scotland could have been forgiven for capitulating in the face of such an onslaught, but instead they roared back. Japan couldn’t keep back the incessant waves of forward pressure, which Nel was the eventual beneficiary of on forty-nine minutes.

Five minutes later, Japan were breached again as Fagerson crossed the line to put the Scottish to within a converted try with another 25 minutes left on the clock. The home fans held their breath.

But that was the last score. Scotland pushed hard, but the Japanese wouldn’t let them through. After gaining the ball just in front of their own try line with a couple of minutes left on the clock, Japan opted to ruck their way to the win rather than kick and hand back the ball.

Scrum-half Tanaka was completely unperturbed by the Scots flying into him as he moved from one battleground to the next to dish the ball out to the next forward offering themselves up for punishment.

Finally, the crowd were counting down to the buzzer and the ball was kicked into touch. Japan were group winners with an amazing 19 points from a possible 20. Celebration time and a rendition of their new tournament song “Victory Road”, based on John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads”. Watch it here.

Here’s an approximate translation with a little artistic licence taken to make it flow better:

If you walk
Down Victory Road
All the way
To the end
Happy days will
Surely follow
If you walk
Down Victory Road

Earlier in the day Tonga defeated the US to take fourth place in Group C, before Wales finally managed to shrug off a limpet-like Uruguay at the death to top Group D.

All of that means I got my quarter-final predictions correct.

As a side note, the BBC reporting has been pretty inaccurate on the public response to the tournament in Japan. It said that Japan did not need these strong performances to get the nation into the tournament. That is not true. It absolutely did need these performances. Rugby is still very much a minority sport here and the rules and points system are regularly shown on broadcasts to educate first time viewers.

Week on week, the number of people attending at the fan zones has shot up. In Shizuoka, it was too full to let people in one hour before kick-off last night; the previous three weeks it was able to contain everybody. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard Japanese people saying in shock/surprise “Rugby’s great, isn’t it.” The Japanese performance in the World Cup is absolutely vital to establishing a continuing legacy, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

As there are only matches on weekends from now on, the blog will be taking mid-week breaks. Thank you for reading and stay tuned!

Yesterday’s Matches
USA 31-19 Tonga (Hanazono Rugby Stadium, Osaka)
Wales 35-13 Uruguay (Kumamoto Stadium, Kumamoto)
Japan 28-21 Scotland (International Stadium, Yokohama)

Quarter-Finals

Saturday
England vs Australia (1615 JST) (Oita Stadium, Oita)
New Zealand vs Ireland (1915 JST) (Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo)
Sunday
Wales vs France (1615 JST) (Oita Stadium, Oita)
Japan vs South Africa (1915 JST) (Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo)

Expression of the day
ビクトリーロード (bikutori ro-do)
この道 (kono michi)
ずっと (zutto)
ゆけば (yukeba)
最後は (saigo wa)
笑える日が (waraeru hi ga)
くるのさ (kuru no sa)
ビクトリーロード (bikutori ro-do)
Which means…
(The Victory Road Song in Japanese)

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2 thoughts on “VICTORY ROAD”

  1. Well done, Ian! You’re masterful with words, giving your readers clear pictures of the matches, as well as cultural insights.

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