Japan stun South Africa in World Cup opener

South Africa are one of the big contenders to win the rugby World Cup. But their campaign got underway in disastrous fashion with a shock loss against Japan. The defeat has energised the tournament.

Heyneke Meyer's South Africa side are among the favourites for the World Cup.
Heyneke Meyer's South Africa side are among the favourites for the World Cup. Reuters/Eddie Keogh

Japan injected unpredictability into the veins of the rugby World Cup on Saturday night with a 34-32 win over tournament favourites South African.

A last-minute Karne Hesketh try secured the victory over the two-time champions. It was one of the biggest shocks in the competition’s 32-year history.

Ayumu Goromaru scored 24 points including a brilliant try to keep Japan in the game; Hesketh pierced South Africa's last ditch defending in the dying seconds to claim the famous win.

Japan's players went on a lap of honour with the national flag amid roars of support from the 29,000 crowd in Brighton in southern England.

"It's a fantastic achievement," said coach Eddie Jones, who will leave the team after the World Cup.

"We worked really hard for this. But look, for me personally it's right up there with my best days in the sport," said the coach who guided Australia to the 2003 final and was member of the Springboks coaching team for their 2007 World Cup triumph. 

South Africa went into the game expecting a big win but Japan refused to cower.

The Asian champions, who will host the 2019 World Cup, had won only one previous World Cup game against Zimbabwe in 1991. They have drawn two and lost 21.

Their victory came at the end of a see-saw tussle in which the lead changed throughout the match. Japan led 3-0 only to see Francois Louw score a try and Pat Lambie converted for a 7-3 advantage.

It was even until South Africa appeared to have taken the initiative when they led 29-22.

However if the Springboks thought that was the final say they were soon to be disabused of the notion as a scintillating back move saw Goromaru go in and then convert to bring the scores level once again at 29-29.

Handre Pollard gave South Africa a three-point lead with a penalty conversion with seven minutes remaining. They could have gone for a try and a conversion to bring seven points. They chose textbook percentages.

It was a decision that came back to haunt them. 

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