INSTANT KARNE: Hesketh scored Japan's winning try moments after taking the field in Brighton
BRIGHTON, 20 Sept. – Karne Hesketh had just one touch of the ball in Japan’s 34-32 triumph over South Africa on Saturday, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
With the clock ticking and Japan opting not to kick for a potentially game-tying penalty, 79th-minute replacement Hesketh ran in the decisive try in the left corner to give the Brave Blossoms their second Rugby World Cup victory.
Hesketh admitted he had been happy just to be selected in coach Eddie Jones’ squad, let alone score the try that ended Japan’s 24-year barren spell at the RWC.
“I could never imagine,” Hesketh said, the night after Japan orchestrated what has been hailed as one of the great sporting upsets.
“I remember crossing the line and thinking, ‘We’ve done it.’ Just immense happiness and pride. And to be lucky enough to be on the end of that, it was special.
“Before that game, just being involved in the World Cup was the pinnacle of my career. To be part of something like last night is so special.”
BIG IN JAPAN
Beating the world No 3-ranked Springboks has propelled Japan's team to instant national stardom. Jones’ XV were the top story across all media platforms and are guaranteed a heroes’ welcome when they return to Japan.
Hesketh had no idea he and his team had sparked rugby fever back home.
“I wasn’t aware that can happen,” he said. “If management know, they haven’t told us. They’re trying to keep us level-headed for now.
“By the time we got to the team hotel it was pretty late. We had a team dinner and celebrated together. We had a couple of beers but we had to control it. As much as we wanted to celebrate, it’s not the only job we came to do.”
WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH...
The team's next job will come on Wednesday, when Japan take on Scotland in Gloucester, having had just three days of rest after the Springboks game.
Hesketh said Japan’s first team are tired but will be motivated by the fact that a win against Scotland would put them one win away from qualifying for the quarter-finals.
“We’re just trying to focus on preparation,” the New Zealand-born player said. “All the physical stuff has been done. We just need to mentally prepare and improve if we can.
“If we’re mentally sharp, we’ll be good. It comes down to being prepared and doing everything as seriously as you can.
“I can probably say physically, (the other boys) are probably buggered. Personally I’m still very fresh but that was a pretty physical game. But it was always goings to be and that’s what we trained for.”