Leitch says victory is just another step forward

As heroic defending by Japan forwards lays the foundation for another famous win, captain warns the Brave Blossoms against easing off.

SHIZUOKA, 28 Sep - Japan captain Michael Leitch has hailed his team for writing another page in Rugby World Cup history, but is urging them to push for more.

On Saturday the hosts followed up their breakthrough victory over South Africa in England four years ago with their first-ever win against Ireland in front of an ecstatic home crowd.

An Ireland pack who had scored three out of their four tries against Scotland less than a week earlier were stifled by the Japan forwards' heroic defending. So much so that the side that started the match as world No.2 were restricted to two tries from their backs off Jack Carty kicks.

The Brave Blossoms' second-row - starters Luke Thompson and Luke Moore and replacement Wimpie Van der Walt - combined for 48 tackles without missing any.

"We knew they were going to go the same way with their forwards, and we prepared all week for that. We just dug in and went for it," said Moore. "It wasn't easy, you just get off the ground because you know your team-mates are depending on you and your country is depending on you to do it."

Hooker Shota Horie, 33, who was named Player of the Match, was hailed by coach Jamie Joseph for his ability to play in the mould of a prop as well as a flanker, while Leitch, another from the last World Cup squad, galvanised his side after replacing the injured Amanaki Mafi on 30 minutes.

"Not starting, I had a role to do in the team," said the 30-year-old, reserved originally for a much later introduction. "I had to come out and leave an impact. I was roaring out there."

Leitch knows from RWC 2015 that his side cannot take their foot off the gas after beating one of the big guns, having four years ago become the first team to be eliminated despite winning three pool games.

"We have the experience of drinking after the South Africa game and our bodies not moving against Scotland (four days later)," veteran scrum-half Fumiaki Tanaka said. "So it's OK having a sip or two. But our leader Leitch said we're not going to be drinking outside any more." 

Leitch was not getting carried away either, but knows the hosts are heading in the right direction.

"We have talked about how four tries mean a bonus point. We're all on top of that, and this week's game (against Samoa on Saturday) is going to be crucial for us to move through to the quarter-finals.

"We feel we're growing. The gap between the world's best is getting closer bit by bit and what's important is Japan remaining strong from now on."

RNS mn/pr/sw