GLOUCESTER, 11 Oct - Eddie Jones could not conceal his delight after Japan capped a memorable RWC 2015 and completed a perfect send-off for the departing head coach with a 28-18 Pool B victory over USA at Kingsholm.
The Brave Blossoms became the first team in the tournament’s history to win three matches but miss out on qualification to the quarter-finals and Jones was full of praise for the team’s national “heroes”, who have made the world of rugby stand up and take notice since their opening tournament victory over South Africa.
“I want everything about this win today to be about the team,” Jones (pictured) said in his post-match press conference. “It’s not about my last game - all the players deserve credit.
“The USA kept coming at us and we kept plugging away. It was a great effort from the team and, to win a game like that when you are not at your best, really shows how we have grown.”
Thirteen points from Japan’s composed full-back and man of the match Ayumu Goromaru made him the group stage’s second-highest points scorer with 58 - two behind Scotland’s Greig Laidlaw.
Japan’s captain Michael Leitch also ended the night at the top of the rankings for the most gain-line carries of any player during the tournament so far, emphasising the team’s muscle up front as well as its prominent attacking flair.
“The thing about Leitchy is his consistency,” Jones continued. “He makes the yards in the hard areas. If you picked a best XV at the moment, he would have to be in contention for the tournament’s best No 6.
“This is a fantastic opportunity for Japan (the 2019 RWC hosts) to have a new generation of players, fans and heroes. These guys are heroes now. They have changed the whole image of Japanese rugby and, when you have heroes, you want to emulate them. That’s what sport can do.”
Although the Americans secured the majority of first-half possession and territory, the Brave Blossoms were far more clinical overall.
Fly-half Kosei Onohelped sparked the movement that set Japan on their way two minutes after the USA had broke the ice from the tee. When the ball was recycled, Leitch had to gather well from the floor before feeding through the hands and putting wing Kotaro Matsushima over on the left with seven minutes played.
Goromaru converted but it was the Americans who dictated play and they would have created more chances if not for several handling errors. Eventually, they crossed with a quarter of the match expired - wing Takudzwa Ngwenya receiving a well-weighted pass from captain Chris Wyles.
MacGinty missed the conversion and the Brave Blossoms struck back immediately. Japan’s youngest-capped wing Yoshikazu Fujita started the move by collecting the ball as the USA mistimed the Japanese restart, and then finished it - the 18-year-old crashing over the whitewash at the base of a rolling maul on his World Cup debut.
Goromaru converted to surpass 700 test points for Japan and then hit the mark again from 40 metres out to extend the lead, which was maintained before the break on the back of some gutsy defending. And the man they have come to call Japan’s “comic book hero” split the posts again from the 40-metre line two minutes after the break.
USA’s Irish-born fly-half Alan MacGinty struck back 12 minutes later but, despite gaps beginning to appear on Japan’s fringes, discipline proved USA’s undoing. Their loosehead prop Eric Fry was sent to the bin on 60 minutes and Japan went to the corner.
Lock Luke Thompson climbed high and offloaded to Japan's replacement Amanaki Mafi on his descent, before the commanding back-row forward powered over to all but secure victory.
Wyles, the USA’s World Cup veteran, went over the line nine minutes from time, but the Eagles had left themselves with too much to do and the celebrations were all Japan's on the final whistle.