Jaco van der Merwe
The Brave Blossoms have claimed a big scalp at a World Cup yet again, but it might be highly unrewarding by the end of it all.
At the 2015 World Cup Japan sent shockwaves through the rugby world by beating the Springboks 34-32 in Brighton.
It was hailed as the biggest upset in rugby’s history by many as Japan’s praises were sung and the world’s third best team were made a laughing stock.
But only four days later Japan were brought back to earth by getting mauled 45-10 by Scotland and the Boks bounced back with comfortable wins over Samoa, Scotland and the United States.
Even though Japan recorded two more hard-fought wins against Samoa and the US, they became the first team to hold the distinction of missing out on the quarterfinals despite winning three pool matches.
The Boks and Scotland, by virtue of securing more bonus points, finished first and second respectively in the Pool B, just as the bookmakers had predicted ahead of the tournament.
Last weekend the tremors in the aftermath of Japan’s stunning 19-12 wins over world No 2 at the time, Ireland, were probably smaller than they were four years ago in terms of a shock even though it was every bit as impressive as their Bok scalp in 2015.
But sadly for the host nation, their current campaign might be a case of deja vu, especially if they manage to beat Samoa in the next game.
If they do, their last match against Scotland – provided the Scots record a regulation win against Russia – could be a virtual knockout to determine who makes it out of the group alongside Ireland.
The Irish still have Russia and Samoa to go, but chances of another slip up against those two are very slim.
And providing they manage bonus points wins in both, it will leave them on 16 points which only Japan can surpass should they beat both Samoa and Scotland.
If Scotland manage to rake in the expected five points against the Russian Bears, it will take them to 10.
With Ireland on 16 and Scotland on 10 with only Japan’s match against Scotland to go, the last scheduled pool match of this year’s tournament could have some very interesting permutations in store for us.
Should Japan collect maximum points against Samoa, they will take 14 points into that match, meaning a bonus point for losing with less than eight points should be enough to see them through.
Should the hosts beat Samoa without a bonus point and take 13 points into the match, a draw will be good enough to see them through.
And should they lose to Samoa, they might only take nine or 10 points into their final pool match meaning the winner will take it all.
In the highly likely event of Japan and Scotland finishing on the same number of points, Scotland will go through by virtue of winning the head-to-head encounter between them.
The fact of the matter is that the hopeful Japanese supporters might face a horrible scenario on the last weekend of pool action.
Their team might top the group – or finish second – to reach the quarterfinals for the first time, or they could end missing out entirely again even with three wins.
Either way, the pre-tournament notion of the losers of the match between the Boks and the All Blacks having to face Ireland in the last-eight isn’t such a safe bet anymore.
Jaco van der Merwe is The Citizen’s Head of Sport.
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