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Rugby World Cup

Japan catches rugby fever with stunning Ireland upset

World Cup attracts 420,000-plus fans in first 12 games

The Brave Blossoms celebrate their historic upset over Ireland on Sept. 28. (Photo by Toshiki Sasazu)

SHIZUOKA/TOKYO -- A historic win for Japan's Brave Blossoms against world No. 2 Ireland on Saturday capped off a week of excitement at the Rugby World Cup as local and foreign fans alike crowded into stadiums across Japan to witness the pinnacle of the sport.

In front of a crowd of 48,000 in the central Japan prefecture of Shizuoka, the Japanese team barged through a wall of green and clinched an upset, a shocker on par with its victory against South Africa in the 2015 World Cup. Jubilant fans jumped up and down throughout the stadium.

"Against the second ranked team in the world, the Japanese team stood their ground in terms of tackles and scrums," said Tatsushi Inoue, 25, a civil servant who came to watch the match with his father. "I was moved by their courage."

The Brave Blossoms received a nod of approval from Irish supporters too. "The Japanese team kept playing surprisingly well. I was very impressed," said Keith Griffin, 48, a supporter who made the trip from Dublin.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe joined in the celebration, posting on Instagram shortly after the victory. "Big win for teamwork! Thank you for this tremendously exciting victory," he wrote.

Flag in hand, fans rejoice over Japan's win against Ireland on Sept. 28. (Photo by Akira Kodaka)

With the team within reach of the knockout stages for the first time in history, rugby fever in Japan is set to reach unprecedented heights.

An early victory for the hosts set the tone for a week of excitement. On Sept. 20, the tournament's opening day, more than 45,700 spectators in the Tokyo Stadium stands watched Japan trounce Russia 30-10, scoring four tries.

"It was a relief, because whether the host country wins or loses affects the mood of the whole tournament," a source involved with the tournament said.

In the northeastern Japanese city of Kamaishi, a five-hour train ride from the capital, about 14,000 fans crammed into the newly built Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium for the Fiji-Uruguay match on Wednesday. Cheers erupted from the stands as 19th-ranked Uruguay upset No. 10 Fiji in a closely fought game.

The high-capacity International Stadium Yokohama hosted clashes between rugby powerhouses over the weekend -- New Zealand vs. South Africa on Sept. 21 and Ireland vs. Scotland on Sept. 22 -- with more than 60,000 people at each match.