By Kaori Kaneko and Linda Sieg
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese captivated by their Brave Blossoms rugby team’s historic run to the World Cup quarter finals are now suffering a new form of bereavement – “rugby loss” – after their home team was bundled out of the tournament by South Africa.
Fans were still feeling bereft days after cheering the Blossoms into the quarter-finals of the first World Cup to be held outside the heartlands of the game, a match Japan lost to South Africa 26-3 on Sunday.
It was the end of a brilliant campaign which saw Japan beat traditional rugby heavyweights Ireland and Scotland to get to the quarter finals for the first time, proving to the world how far the game had come in a nation trounced 145-17 by New Zealand at the 1995 World Cup.
The tournament has created an explosion of interest in the game in Japan, including from many who had never watched the sport and had little if any understanding of its rules.
“I’m so sad that I can’t see the Japanese players anymore,” said Hiroko Kudo, 59, at a sport goods shop in downtown Tokyo.
“The day after they lost (to South Africa) the players were on television so I watched them but I didn’t see them yesterday and today, and I’m sad,” said Kudo, who had tickets for Japan’s winning first-round match against Russia.
Fans struggling with rugby deprivation supported each other through the Twitter thread #rugbyloss.
“For one month, they excited us and gave is courage, but now it’s over and I’m so sad. I’ve got ‘rugby loss’,” said one tweet earlier this week.
“There were lots of kinds of ‘loss’, but now ‘rugby loss’ has joined them,” tweeted another fan.
Ayaka Toyoda, 38, said watching the matches had been a learning experience for her sons, aged 11 and 8.
“Japan matches are finished, but we got strength from the team. I think my sons learned discipline and respect for opponents … and the importance of trying hard,” she said.
Shozo Niwata, 48, who traveled to Oita in southwest Japan to see Wales beat France on Sunday and then watched Japan lose to South Africa at a public viewing that evening, was upbeat.
“There are players who are retiring but there are also a lot of young players so I’m looking forward to the next World Cup,” he said.
(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Stephen Coates)