Jamie Joseph showed how much it hurt as Japan’s journey at the Rugby World Cup ended with defeat at the merciless hands of South Africa.
An absorbing tussle at Tokyo Stadium was only one-sided in the closing minutes as South Africa pulled away to win 26-3 and set up a semi-final against Wales next Sunday.
After winning all four of their group games, and having beaten South Africa against all odds at the last World Cup, there were growing hopes in Japan that the tournament hosts could spring another surprise.
It was not to be though, with South Africa’s resolute defence repelling the threat of Japan’s scintillating backs.
Coach Joseph said: “At the end of the day I’m so proud of my team.
“[They showed] the courage, the tenacity, certainly the determination. I really have to take my hat off to the team.
“And I have to thank the fans – we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have the support of the whole country. It’s been marvellous.”
Joseph appeared to start welling up as his post-match television interview continued, adding: “We’re really proud of what we’ve achieved at the World Cup. We’re going to enjoy that a little bit later on.
“I’m disappointed for the players because they give so much to the group and they gave so much to the country in this World Cup.”
With his voice faltering, Joseph, who succeeded Eddie Jones after the last World Cup, told the tournament interviewer: “It’s been a little bit disappointing, mate.”
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 20, 2019
Captain Michael Leitch signed off his post-match interview with the comment: “Japan’s only going to get stronger.”
That remains to be seen, but recent reports that Joseph could stay on as coach appear to offer promise.
Leitch accepted the better side won the day, as the Brave Blossoms bowed out.
“Test match rugby is all about creating opportunities and taking your moments,” Leitch said.
“I think we had a few opportunities to capitalise on and unfortunately South Africa kept us out, and with their powerful set-piece they had us going backwards.
“Congratulations to the South Africa team – they played their A game and they played it very well.
“I’m extremely proud of what this team’s done – Jamie has done an excellent job. And the fans, the country … I think we’ve done them proud.”
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