YOKOHAMA, Japan (Reuters) - Japan captain Michael Leitch dedicated the team’s 28-21 victory over Scotland at the Rugby World Cup on Sunday to those affected by the super typhoon which nearly forced the cancellation of the match.
The victory for the Brave Blossoms sent them through to the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time, the first Asian country to achieve the feat and the first tier-two nation to reach the knockout stage since 2007.
Remarkably, the match was played a matter of hours after Typhoon Hagibis, one of the worst tropical cyclones to hit the country in recent history, ripped through the Tokyo region killing 23 people.
“I would like to thank everyone who came tonight,” Leitch said.
“It is tough at the moment with typhoon so thanks to everyone who made it happen. For those suffering from the typhoon this was for you guys.
“Our heart goes out to all the people suffering from the typhoon.”
Chants of “Nippon! Nippon! Nippon!” echoed around the arena throughout the contest as the red-and-white clad majority of the 67,666 crowd got a chance to cheer their own nation at the stadium that hosted the 2002 soccer World Cup final.
A brace of tries from Man of the Match Kenki Fukuoka and one each from his fellow winger Kotaro Matsushima - his fifth of the tournament - and prop Keita Inagaki were enough to give Japan a cushion to hold off a Scottish comeback.
“Tonight we went another level,” said coach Jamie Joseph.
“They wanted it as much as the Scots and gave as much as they could. This is what it takes to win big test matches.
“The Japanese haven’t trusted themselves in big moments. Now they know what it takes to get across the line.”
Japan’s victory meant they topped Pool A and will now move onto the last eight to face twice world champions South Africa, the team they famously beat at the last World Cup in England in 2015.
“I am incredibly proud,” Leitch added. “We played with our heart. It wasn’t about skill today but was about emotion today.
“We are representing Asia, Japan and tier two. We will give everything in the next games.”
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend was gracious in defeat.
“Japan deserved it today,” he said. “They played really well in that first 50-60 and they are a very good team.”
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Toby Davis