Best of RWC #20 - 2019 Upsets

Best of RWC #20 - 2019 Upsets

After having well and truly de-monkeyfied the Webb Ellis curse in 2011 and 2015 we head to Japan in 2019 as two-time defending champions, a little wary of our chances.

RWC IX was as open as it had ever been.

Welcome to the penultimate Episode, number 20, of our RWC retrospective, looking at the upset matches in the Land of the Rising Sun. The other, “classic”, matches follow shortly as we wrap up our wander through history with kick off in Paris just days away.

Once again what follows is 100% accurate as it based on my opinion, any facts are purely coincidental (although I will admit googling some)

Japan 19 vs Ireland 12

28 September 2019 (Pool A)

The Brighton Miracle happened. But that was four years previously when Eddie Jones’s famed ability get a team up for a special occasion had the emerging Brave Blossoms sneak up on and knock over one of the tournament favourites South Africa. Unfortunately they missed out on advancing due to lack of bonus points.

This time around Japan had their eyes set higher. But in order to achieve the rare feat of a Tier Two nation making the knockouts they faced two of the oldest establishment countries, Ireland and Scotland, as well as multiple post-pool qualifiers Samoa.

First up though they would play the Pool’s top seeds from the Emerald Isle in what was both teams’ second match of the tournament in a city called Fukuroi. I don’t recall Fukuroi being mentioned as a venue at the time, so having googled I now know that it is a city within the Prefecture of Shizuoka, which sounds more familiar.

Now coached by the hardnosed (I’m talking coaching, I won’t comment on his on-field proclivities, or mention Kyran Bracken) former All Black Jamie Joseph and his Highlanders offsider Tony Brown, the Japanese had benefitted from the growing strength of the domestic Top League (now Japan Rugby League One) club competition.

Strengthened by strategic immigration in recent times they have been able to negate their traditional lack of sheer size, and along with their fast and creative backs were a credible contender.

When the coaching team won Super Rugby in 2015 they played a high tempo, all action game, and brought this same energy to the Japan national team.

However, the match started in line with expectations as Ireland scored two first half tries, both the result of high cross field kicks. First Gary Ringrose plucked an overhead ball out of the grasp of the defender. The second was notched when the ball fell for Rob Kearney to crash over.

The 12-3 lead was not a surprise, but two penalties kept the hosts in the game at 12-9 as the half closed.

Japan had played the game at a high tempo in the first half, and did create a number of chances. They continued this in the second half and created a try in the left hand corner for replacement winger Kenki Fukuoka in the 58th minute on the outside of some slick ball movement. The conversion gave Japan a four-point lead.

Ireland continued to attack but were playing the clock as well as the scoreboard. Their chances were snuffed out by an intercept at 77 mins and, although run down by Irish defenders, the Paddies were now at the wrong end of the field and trapped against their own in-goal.

Inexplicably, with time up on the clock the replacement Irish 10 kicked long, and found touch (and frankly even if he hadn’t the Japanese would have).

Japan had done it again: they had beaten the Pool’s top seeds, and now lined up their remaining two opponents Samoa and Scotland looking to make their first quarter-final.

I am amused at an example of revisionist history I discovered in checking the facts for this game where it seems some Irish fans have spammed the Wikipedia page as there is a whinge about a number of the penalties that referee Angus Gardner awarded “incorrectly”. I am offended by this as I understood it was exclusively a New Zealand thing to be bitter and twisted about refereeing and blame them for losing.

Fiji 27 vs Uruguay 30

29 September 2019 (Pool D)

This was THE upset of the tournament.

Fiji had some real designs on getting past Pool favourites Australia and/or Wales with a team stacked with full time professionals. Fiji even led Australia at half-time in their opening match.

Uruguay, not so much. I really can’t comment on how many of their guys were pro. But not many. If any. Pretty sure they were just happy to be there. Only four years earlier a documentary had been produced about just qualifying for RWC VIII (Teros, sueño mundial which means something like World Dream for the Southern Lapwing ... ).

And the size disparity! Visually at least it looked like men versus boys (reminds me of games I’ve played back in the day for Eden or Putaruru against the big boy clubs ...).

This surely was a foregone conclusion.

But it was one of “those” games. The plucky underdog just hung in there.

As sometimes happens in “those” games the favourites looked good early. Fiji scored a slick opening try around the front of a lineout.

But maybe that lulled them, maybe it was the resultant complacency, as Fiji started to make mistakes as they played a bit too much football in their own half.

Regardless of expectation it was international Test match rugby, and Los Teros were capable of meeting the challenge. A loose ball was scrambled up by Uruguay and two tackles were missed as their little halfback gave the South Americans the lead.

In “those” sorts of games mistakes compound themselves. Players tense up and try stuff they shouldn’t as mild concern builds to the edge of panic. Conversely those other teams are building in confidence, scrambling harder and finding the ball bouncing luckier as they start to believe.

And in a flash those other teams are leading and riding a wave of belief.

Penalties get conceded and kicked to the corner for tries, turnovers get turned into points and the score gets concerning.

Halftime at 24-12 and Fiji needed the break to reset.

Fiji scored early in the second spell, but Uruguay kept the score just tantalisingly out of reach knocking over a penalty, and another after Fiji scored their second.

Come the final few minutes Uruguay’s lead was just out of reach as Fiji scored after the hooter.

Los Teros were understandably quite happy.

Fiji’s hopes of a second quarter-final qualification were put on hold but it was delight for Los Teros who had achieved only their second RWC victory, 16 years after beating Georgia in Australia.

Scotland 34 v Samoa 0

30 September (Pool A)

Included as an “upset” because I’m genuinely surprised at the margin in this match.

All due respect to the Scotland they were not very good in the first 20-odd years of the 21st century. They have never won a Six Nations championship, despite being the reigning Five Nations champions (which was last played in 1999). Sure they were a foundation IRB union (along with England) but they have been through their struggles. They are in 2023 showing signs of emerging from those doldrums, and in the last couple of years leading into RWC X they are again becoming the team they used to be in the ‘80s.

Samoa has a storied history in RWCs, making multiple post-pool appearances (two QFs and one of those weird 1999 play-off games), so I kind of expect them to be good and a threat to those outside of the top 5 or so ranked teams.

Perhaps Samoa had been living a little on their reputation, or at least perhaps I had still rated them on that rep, but in recent years they’ve not delivered to the same level. And even though it was 8th v 16th, so the result was as expected, 34-nil is a huge margin between these two

As for the game itself?

Who cares?

New Zealand 0 v Italy 0

12 October 2 (Pool B)

New Zealand drew with Italy?! One of those games that many of us have no recollection of.

But in this case the match didn’t actually happen.

The officially recorded result – in terms of the competition at least – appears to be a nil-all draw, the consequence of Typhoon Hagibis wreaking havoc across Japan that week (refer Scotland v Japan below).

New Zealand has actually recorded a couple of nil-all draws in history. One against the Bokke at Wellington in 1921, in the third ever match against the old foe (resulting in a drawn series, the tie breaker ending in a tie), and one at Murrayfield in 1964. But even in the days of soaked leather balls, square-toed O’Brien boots with nail in sprigs and 2-3-2 scrums nil-all was not common.

Two competition points a-piece allowed NZ to top the Pool, staying just ahead of South Africa.

Japan 28 vs Scotland 21

13 October 2019 (Pool A)

This match, or the nearly not playing thereof, caused major controversy because the Sweaties were convinced World Rugby was out to rob them of a place in the Quarter Finals, as the two points for an awarded nil-nil result would not have been enough to get them past Ireland into second place in the Pool.

Tone deaf threats of law-suits amidst the death and destruction of Typhoon Hagibis, one of the largest Typhoons ever recorded (according to the interwebs), which killed 121 people and left another three missing, did not endear the Scottish Rugby Union to the rugby public.

I don’t really recall the match, but the highlights show it was rather entertaining and rather close as Japan bounced out to an early lead, and were slowly, though eventually unsuccessfully, dragged back by the Scots.

Given my challenged memory I Wikipedia-ed and copied the following points, because each of the following is all sorts of awesome:

  • This was Scotland's 700th test match.
  • This was Japan's first win over Scotland.
  • This was the first time that a Tier 2 nation had defeated two Tier 1 nations in a single World Cup tournament.
  • With this win, Japan topped the pool and advanced to the quarter-finals for the first time – the first Asian side to do so.
  • Japan became the first Tier 2 nation since Fiji in 2007, and the fourth ever, to advance to the quarter-finals.
  • Japan became the first Tier 2 nation to top their pool and win all of their pool games.
  • The game was at risk of cancellation due to the after effects of Typhoon Hagibis the previous night. There was a lot of determination that, of all games, this one would be played. During the early hours of that morning a clean up operation was carried out by a large number of local residents. After an appeal put out by stadium management, they had spent the night in the stadium to be sure of being there as soon as the worst of the typhoon had passed. To get the venue match-ready mud had to be cleaned up and the entire pitch was dried by hand with towels. It was passed safe by 1100 and the game went ahead.

Shades of Durban in 1995.

And yay for karma.

So, 20 articles down, and one episode to go.

2019 was a pretty good tournament really, embodied by some pretty good matches that we’re about to look at in our final instalment before kick off come the weekend.

Coming up the non-upsetting “Classic” matches of RWC IX.

September 4, 9:04pm

Outside of the AB games and the final I struggled to remember much about this RWC for some reason. I was reading through booboos articles and getting surprised by results/scores

September 4, 10:54pm

@Duluth said in Best of RWC 2019:

Outside of the AB games and the final I struggled to remember much about this RWC for some reason. I was reading through booboos articles and getting surprised by results/scores

just thinking the same thing. i had forgotten our game got called off. I had even forgotten the flogging we gave the Irish

I only half watched the semi, it was on at a party i was at, but when ever i looked it seemed we were under the pump. Winning 2 in a row really changes the perspective a bit.

September 4, 11:19pm


I think it's because I checked out of giving a shit about AB's results halfway through the Hanson regime. That spread to Test rugby in general

September 5, 12:12am

@mariner4life said in Best of RWC 2019:

i had forgotten our game got called off.

Frankly, me too.

Only games I remember at all are us v SA, Ireland & England, Japan v Ireland, Uruguay v Fiji, parts of the final, and the Frog lock being sent off.

All the rest was google and youtube.

But I did have the impression that it was overall enjoyable, apart from, you know, the result.

September 5, 7:24am

I can remember ranting like a mofo on here when Scooter was selected at 6 and Cane was benched. And then covering up my disappointment (well trying to) at the result for a week by lauding over the place with "I fucking told you so". Funnily enough, now, with a choice between the Tongan named after a shit Manawatu town and Scooter I'm 100% behind the card magnet.

I too forgot about the cancelled match, but was amped to get revenge over the Irish in the 1/4 final.

September 5, 7:33am
September 5, 7:35am

@Duluth said in Best of RWC 2019:

Here’s the semi final match thread:

Where's the trigger warning!? sblock that shit

September 5, 8:34am

@Duluth not going near that ...

September 5, 8:34am

@Nepia said in Best of RWC 2019:

a shit Manawatu town

Where is Frizzell?

September 5, 9:05am

@booboo said in Best of RWC 2019:

@Nepia said in Best of RWC 2019:

a shit Manawatu town

Where is Frizzell?

Twizel is somewhere down south?

September 5, 10:14am

Sitting in a tiny bar in Japan somewhere, watching Japan vs Scotland... fucking magic. I've got a video somewhere of the last minute, and reaction of the bar.
Sitting in the stadium watching England vs New Zealand - not so much fun. I walked out of there numb (and quite smashed)... had some english people clap me on shoulder and try to console me. Fuck them. I wandered towards hotel/hostel... sat in a park somewhere drinking beers from a Lawsons. A gang of about half-a-dozen teens rocked up, sat at next table - made a bit of a mess, leaving fast-food rubbish all over the ground. They were about to leave, but I was spoiling to have injury added to insult - so yelled at them, pointed at their litter, scowled. They all politely picked up their shit and left. Fucking japanese... even the unruly youths are polite.

September 6, 10:13am

Not sure where to put this so this will do ...

Listening to the Rugby Direct podcast while driving to site today and host Elliot Smith says he's born in 1988 ...

... then Liam Napier says he's born in 1990.

Both say their earliest rugby memories are of the '95 RWC.

I've always enjoyed listening to them, but somehow I now equate their opinions with those of teenagers...

... I've seen Memes about the 80s being like 20 years ago ...

I feel old ...

September 6, 2:17pm

@Duluth said in Best of RWC 2019:

Outside of the AB games and the final I struggled to remember much about this RWC for some reason. I was reading through booboos articles and getting surprised by results/scores

I daresay Covid coming right on the heels of the tournament makes 2019 quickly forgotten.

September 6, 5:07pm

Right. Here we go.

Flew into Tokyo night before the opener. Chopped two perfect beers in the Ginza, savaged some overly pampered beef, smashed too many too complicated cocktails.

Woke up. Shook the cobwebs out in the arcades of Shinjuku then hit the opener.

Just a great vibe around the stadium. Russians doing boat races in a cardboard rocket. Loads of local fans mingling with rugby lovers from all over. Special mention to the two awesome frog lads in Asterix & Obelix gear.

As luck would have it, as we’re walking up the stairs into the stadium along with the throng of excited rugby fans the great Noddy himself [that’s Helmet, you helmet. Noddy’s Linagh - ed] comes down the stairs escorted by a phalanx of officials.

As Mr. Horan slowly pushed against the tide of supporters, I yelled out:

Look everybody: it’s former player of the Tournament, Tim Horan!

Leaving Timothy a half-beat to graciously acknowledge the rumble of approval with a shy wave of his hand, I naturally followed this up with a shout of: MASTER OF THE MARGINALLY FORWARD PASS!

Queue uproarious laughter as the little magician shuffled off, hopefully suitably chastened for dumping us out of the 99 semis.

(So if you happen to see Monsieur Horan in France, you know what to do.)

Top night in Golden Gai, trading yarns with Wallaby hookers, belting out Karoake and trying to teach a marriage ruining troop of Dutch dancers the intricacies of taking a tighthead.

Back to Tokyo stadium for the good guys v the forces of evil. Great Haka, better chat with the kiwis behind us, could feel the game turn when we didn’t get any reward for the first twenty minutes of dominance. Tried and failed to meet up with @gt12

Locals were so moved by my anguish at the final whistle that they gave me a baby. Must’ve gone off, smelt terrible, so I gave it back.

Back to Golden Gai. Sadly no dancers. But here are the indomitable Gauls. So drink our pain away in a Shibuya dive until dawn. Needing a slash I wander up to the roof to watch the sunrise against the odds.

What’s this? Young Japanese kid right on the edge. Shame so thick you can see it. So I wander over and tell him it can’t be that bad - he could be Australian or worse, English. Whether he understood or whether he was appalled by a drunk saffir pissing on his town from a great height, he turned around in a hurry.

When I got back to the bar the cops were busy trying to drag Obelix away for helping himself to the top shelf.

Nothing for it but to get some shuteye before heading out to Yokohama to smash a few frothies with two Valley RFC legends before a truly dire game of rugby.

24 hours later was back home with the glory of the next six weeks ahead of us all.