Japan coach Jamie Joseph said Sunday that his players were driven to make Rugby World Cup history after waking to the devastation caused by the weekend’s massive typhoon.
The hosts beat Scotland 28-21 in a crunch encounter in Yokohama to finish top of Pool A with a perfect record of four wins from four games.
But as a crowd of 67,000 erupted at the final whistle, Joseph called for perspective after Typhoon Hagibis ripped across Japan bringing ferocious winds and torrential rain, causing blackouts and flooding that left at least 35 people dead.
“Before I talk about the footy, I really want to acknowledge the families that have lost people in the typhoon today,” said the former All Black.
“That really motivated our team. We talked about that this morning as a group. The players really wanted to play because while we’re celebrating tonight, a lot of people are suffering,” added Joseph.
“When we woke up this morning we read that people had been killed and many were still missing. Those sorts of things can be overwhelming, but it really helped (motivate) our players today.”
Japan created history by becoming the first Asian side to reach the World Cup knockout stages after wins against Russia (30-10), Ireland (19-12) and Samoa (38-19).
The Brave Blossoms defied odds of almost 50/1 to finish top of their pool but they had to survive a fierce Scottish fightback after going in at half-time leading 21-7.
“We were just able to hang on to the very end,” said Joseph. “That fact that we’re playing a World Cup at home – we all feel and see the amount of support for our team and that’s incredible motivation.
“It’s tenacity I guess in crucial parts of Tests,” he added. “It doesn’t happen overnight – you’ve got to go through a bit of pain.
“But the persistence and confidence to trust the plan is what saw us through. It was a Test match we didn’t want to lose and it was the people we were playing for who really helped in those dying minutes.”
Japan captain Michael Leitch also paid tribute to those who had suffered in the typhoon, which had washed out Saturday’s England v France and New Zealand v Italy matches.
“We knew this game was more than just about us,” said the talismanic flanker. “A lot of people were suffering and we owed it to them to play our hearts out.
“For us to qualify for the quarter-finals, we’re shifting the goalposts,” added Leitch. “Not coming out next week to have a good game and lose – we’re coming to win.”