TOKYO, Oct 13 (Reuters) - Japanese rugby fans erupted in celebration on Sunday after their team advanced to the knockout stage of the World Cup for the first time with a convincing victory over a determined Scotland.
It was hard to imagine the Tokyo region had battened down against a powerful typhoon just 24 hours earlier as Japan’s supporters brought energy to an electric atmosphere in Yokohama Stadium, across fan zones and sports bars to cheer on the Brave Blossoms.
Fans in the red-and-white-striped jerseys of their team hugged, exchanged high-fives and chanted “Nippon!” as the gong sounded following the 28-21 win that punched Japan’s ticket to the quarter-finals where they will face South Africa next weekend.
“They had a complete victory scoring four tries and made it to the best eight for the first time. It’s incredible!” said Tetsushi Yamamoto, 39, who came to watch the match at a fan zone in Tokyo’s Yurakucho district.
Japan is known for its love of baseball, soccer and the traditional sport of sumo but the tournament hosts have been winning the hearts of new fans and attracting record television audiences.
“Today’s the first time I watched rugby, it’s different from other sports and I was so excited. I’m so happy they won today,” said Yuki Sakurai, 20.
Japan has participated at every World Cup since the tournament began in 1987 but were perennial losers, serving as easy prey for the tier one sides, most notably in a demoralising 145-17 loss to New Zealand in 1995.
That all changed in 2015 in England when Japan stunned South Africa and just missed out on reaching the quarter-finals despite having won three matches.
Scotland were the only side to beat Japan in their pool four years ago so it was sweet revenge for Jamie Joseph’s men to get the win this time.
Having won all four of their matches to top Pool A, the Brave Blossoms will prepare to take on the Springboks next Sunday and for the Japanese faithful, anything seems possible.
“Of course they’ll be world number one! I really believe it,” said Yukiko Kasamatsu, 47.
Twelve-year-old Naoki, who came to the fan zone with his parents, concurred.
“I think they’ll go to the final and win it all,” he said. (Reporting by Chris Gallagher Editing by Toby Davis)