Rugby World Cup comes alive as hosts Japan shock Ireland

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Japan's players celebrate after winning over Ireland during the Rugby World Cup Pool A game at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa between Japan and Ireland in Shizuoka, Japan, Saturday. (AP)
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Japan's flanker Kazuki Himeno celebrates after winning the Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between Japan and Ireland at the Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa in Shizuoka on Saturday. (AFP)
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Japan's Kenki Fukuoka runs past Ireland's defense during the Rugby World Cup Pool A game at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa between Japan and Ireland in Shizuoka, Japan, on Saturday. (AP)
Updated 28 September 2019

Rugby World Cup comes alive as hosts Japan shock Ireland

  • Brave Blossoms added the “Shizuoka Shock” to the “Brighton Miracle” after toppling South Africa at the 2015 tournament
  • Japan coach Jamie Joseph insisted the giant-slaying result had not come as a surprise

Shizuoka, JAPAN: Kenki Fukuoka struck the killer blow as hosts Japan stunned Ireland 19-12 on Saturday to take a giant step toward a first Rugby World Cup quarter-final spot.
The replacement winger wriggled over on the hour mark to score the winning try of a frenetic Pool A clash as the Brave Blossoms added the “Shizuoka Shock” to the “Brighton Miracle” after toppling South Africa at the 2015 tournament.
Japan coach Jamie Joseph insisted the result had not come as a surprise.
“You don’t want to come across too arrogant and cocky,” said the ex-All Black.
“We’d been preparing for this game for a hell of a lot longer than they had,” added Joseph.
“We were preparing for three years and Ireland probably since Monday, so we felt like had an advantage. The boys will have a couple of beers tonight.”
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt, meanwhile, denied that his side had underestimated Japan.
“It’s a tough defeat for us to take,” he admitted. “But I’d like to congratulate Japan for the energy, intensity and skill they brought to the game.
“Japan didn’t exceed my expectations — I expected them to be as good as they were. They play a quality game and they’re very difficult to contain.”
Ireland, who thrashed Scotland 27-3 in their opening game, had looked in control after first-half tries from Garry Ringrose and Rob Kearney.
But they went off the boil as Japan grew into the match, roared on by a partisan crowd of 47,000.
A late inclusion on the bench, Fukuoka made the difference, darting over on the overlap to complete a stunning team try and put the home side in front.
Incredibly, they stayed there, leaving Ireland’s players slumped on the turf in disbelief.
Kotaro Matsushima, hat-trick hero of Japan’s 30-10 win over Russia in last week’s tournament curtain raiser, posed an early threat on as Japan edged a cagey opening.
Fly-half Yu Tamura fluffed a makeable penalty, before Ireland took the lead after 13 minutes when the rampaging Ringrose rose brilliantly to snaffle Jack Carty’s hanging kick into the corner.
Carty, stepping in for Ireland’s talismanic playmaker Johnny Sexton, produced another moment of magic seven minutes later, dinking a clever chip that he managed to tip back to full-back Kearney to crash over.
Japan refused to buckle, however, and Tamura kept them in it with three clutch penalties.
Regular captain Michael Leitch’s introduction after half an hour provided an instant impact, but Ireland survived to go into halftime up 12-9.
Tamura missed a three-pointer 14 minutes after the interval that would have tied the game.
But Japan’s swarming pressure soon told, Fukuoka showing superb footwork to sneak over and give Japan the lead, triggering deafening cheers at Ecopa stadium.
Another Tamura penalty extended Japan’s advantage to 19-12 with eight minutes remaining before Fukuoka effectively sealed the result with another tremendous burst that kept the ball in Irish territory until the final gong.
“Anyone that is utterly shocked hasn’t seen how good they are,” said Ireland captain Rory Best.
“We were on the wrong side of the penalty count, but Japan posed a lot of questions to us and unfortunately we couldn’t come up with the right answers.”
Ireland, who came into the tournament as the world’s top-ranked team but have never won a World Cup knockout match, will look to bounce back against Russia.
Japan know they still have no margin for error with games against Samoa and Scotland to come.
“That was a massive effort,” said game captain Pieter Labuschagne.
“It took a special effort but we had massive belief that we could do something different tonight.”


Fernando Alonso ramps up Dakar Rally preparations with podium finish at AlUla-Neom cross-country rally

Updated 37 min 8 sec ago

Fernando Alonso ramps up Dakar Rally preparations with podium finish at AlUla-Neom cross-country rally

  • The result comes at perfect timing less than two months before two-time Formula 1 world champion tackles Dakar
  • Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi took first place

JEDDAH: Fernando Alonso continued his preparations for his Dakar Rally debut in Saudi Arabia by taking third place in AlUla-Neom Cross-Country Rally and secure his inaugural rally podium finish in the process this week.
The result comes at perfect timing less than two months before two-time Formula 1 world champion Alonso takes the wheel for Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020, the Middle East’s first-ever edition of Dakar Rally, which is hosted by the kingdom from 5 to 17 January.
“It was an ideal preparation for Dakar as we discovered new terrain that we will come across again at Dakar,” Alonso said.
“It is a great feeling to finish third and get the first rally podium in my life. The fact that it happened here in Saudi Arabia at this time gives us a lot of confidence going into Dakar,” Alonso added.
Starting in AlUla and extending over 765km before the finale in Neom, AlUla-Neom Cross-Country Rally was contested across four stages over five days, and the former Formula 1 champion said it was an “excellent training” for him on a similar terrain and in close weather conditions to what would be expected at Dakar.
Saudi driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi took first place at Al Ula-Neom Cross-Country Rally, while compatriot Yasir Seaidan finished second, with Alonso rounding off the podium places.
Alonso, who made his desert rally debut in Morocco last month, was co-driven by five-time Dakar bike winner Marc Coma, and the Spanish duo will be together again at Dakar Saudi Arabia as part of the Toyota Gazoo Racing team.
The 2005 and 2006 Formula 1 champion got his campaign at Al Ula-Neom Cross-Country Rally underway to a good start on Day 1 before taking the pace up a notch on the second and third days to set his team up for a podium finish on the last day. “We continue with our plan and preparations, step by step and adapting as fast as we can,” Alonso said of his plans ahead of Dakar.
Dakar Saudi Arabia 2020 will consist of 12 stages, allowing pilots coming from across six continents to discover Saudi Arabia’s rich past, live its modernized present, and meet its future as they race through the Kingdom.
The pilots will kick off Rally Dakar from Jeddah, the bride of the Red Sea, through to Neom, a fully sustainable city of the future, then pass by the historical sites of Riyadh to face the Empty Quarter, a huge desert of unbroken sand, to end in Qiddiya, a future entertainment, sports and cultural destination.
A criminal investigation was been launched after an armed man intercepted a vehicle taking part in the rally.