Greatest Rugby World Cup shocks - brilliant Japan top the list twice

Editor's note: Originally published in 2015, this article has been updated to reflect Japan's victory over Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

The ninth Rugby World Cup tournament has a moment to rival any other, with hosts Japan defeating Ireland 19-12 in Shizuoka.

It enters the pantheon of incredible World Cup shocks, with Ireland having come into the tournament ranked No.1 in the world. And while Japan could not be underestimated given their memorable victory over South Africa in 2015, the manner of their victory this time around is arguably even more remarkable.

So where does it sit in the greatest shocks ever? Here, we recount the matches that made the world sit up and take notice.

Japan 19-12 Ireland, Group Stage, 2019

Lightning couldn't strike twice, could it? Everyone was aware of Japan's capability for causing an upset, but everyone also knew that Ireland had put in one of the most impressive performances of the tournament so far in stifling Scotland in their opening match. By contrast, Japan had looked pedestrian at best against Russia, albeit also recording a victory.

But Ireland started much the brighter in Shizuoka and led 12-3 after 22 minutes, their flyhalf Jack Carty -- stepping in for Jonny Sexton -- pulling the strings effectively.

What followed was something truly remarkable. Japan didn't concede a point for the final 58 minutes and barely conceded as much as a penalty in that time either. It gave them a platform for a staggering comeback, which was made real by Kenki Fukuoka's 59th-minute try and then sealed by Yu Tamura's late penalty.

That Ireland booted into touch and accepted a losing bonus point after time had expired told you everything you needed to know about how the tables had turned. One of the greatest triumphs ever seen on a rugby field.

Japan 34-32 South Africa, Group Stage, 2015

Japan -- who entered the game as 40/1 underdogs -- held their own and more against the 1995 and 2007 world champions, scoring a try in added time to not only secure victory but bring the curtain down on one of the most astounding World Cup matches ever.

Japan fullback Ayumu Goromaru was the biggest threat for the Brave Blossoms throughout, opening the scoring with a penalty before adding four more, a try of his own and two conversions. Goromaru's final point tally of 24 was a new record for the most points scored in a single World Cup game by a Japanese player, too -- in fact, the entire team had only bettered that tally in five previous World Cup matches.

But the final flourish fell to Karne Hesketh. The wing dived into the left corner, finishing off a sweeping move from flank to flank with full time long gone, a fitting finale to a mesmerising performance from the side everyone expected the Springboks to roll over with ease. With that, Japan secured their second Rugby World Cup win -- 24 years after the first, against Zimbabwe in 1991.

Tonga 19-14 France, Group Stage, 2011

One of the biggest wins in Tongan rugby history of the tournament, and yet a result that will give South Africa hope. Les Bleus, under the divisive guidance of departing coach Marc Lièvremont, staggered out of their Pool after losing to minnows Tonga, into the quarter-finals and all the way on to their second World Cup final.

Tonga, who needed a big win over France to progress at their expense after a catastrophic loss to Canada, battled to a 19-14 victory via Morath's boot and a Hufanga try. They couldn't quite pull off the impossible, but their scenes of celebration at full-time after a symbolic victory -- on New Zealand soil, no less -- told its own story.

Fiji 38-34 Wales, Group Stage, 2007

Three times Wales have been stunned by South Sea Island opponents at the World Cup, but this most recent embarrassment -- Fiji's first and only win against the two-time semi-finalists -- was arguably the most significant World Cup loss. Gareth Jenkins' side knew they were in trouble when they re-entered the changing room at half-time trailing by 15 points, but hopes of a late rally were dashed by Graham Dewes' late score.

The Welsh side came back out battling to save their World Cup in heroic style, notching another 24 points to take the lead with Martyn Williams running in an interception try from 65 yards out in the final 10 minutes. But Fiji refused to bow down, Dewes battering his way over the line from close range to dump Wales out the World Cup.

France 43-31 New Zealand, Semifinal, 1999

No team in world rugby could live with the All Blacks in 1999 -- no team but France, whose spellbinding display at Twickenham ripped up the form book and secured a famous win that many, outside New Zealand, still regard as the greatest match in Rugby World Cup history.

France were disregarded before a tackle was even made; with Australia facing South Africa in the other semi-final, Les Bleues looked like the easy route for the All Blacks into the final.

How wrong. France hardly helped themselves by falling behind 24-10 to the competition favourites before Christophe Lamaison -- fortunate to even be in the side after being overlooked initially -- inspired the competition's greatest ever comeback, scoring the first French try and notching a perfect nine kicks.

What made the result all the more shocking was the scoreline. New Zealand had conceded just 44 points en route to the final four, a points-against tally almost doubled in a single game. But for Jeff Wilson's consolation effort near the death, the score might have been even more emphatic.

Wales 31-38 Samoa, Group Stage, 1999

The match was meant to be remembered for Neil Jenkins kicking his way into the record books as Test rugby's greatest points-scorer; instead the hosts were humbled by a five-try defeat that sent Samoa into the knockout stages.

Jenkins duly broke Michael Lynagh's 911-point record, but the Samoan performance stole the show -- not only by defeating the hosts on their own turf, but also ending their 10-match winning streak.

Samoa's towering No.8 Pat Lam, now coaching Connacht, sprinted the length of the pitch for his country's fourth try before fullback Silao Leaega put the fifth and final nail in the coffin. Wales hammered the Samoan line in the closing stages, only to run into a Samoan wall time and again.

Wales 13-16 Western Samoa, Group Stage, 1991

The Welsh talk about the 'ghosts of '91' whenever Samoa rumble into view -- this is what haunts them. In their debut tournament, the nation then known as Western Samoa produced the original Rugby World Cup shock at Cardiff Arms Park.

The Samoans rocked Wales with a succession of huge hits, courtesy of Brian "the chiropractor" Lima and a young Pat Lam. To'o Vaega and Sila Vaifale scored their tries with Arthur Jones and Ieuan Evans hitting back. But the trusty boot of Mathew Vaea sealed the historic win for a nation with just 2,000 players to pick from at the time.