Japan's Karne Hesketh celebrates with team mates at the corner of a rugby pitch with cheering crowd in the background

Rugby history at the flip of a coin

“Early on in the Rugby World Cup 2015 (which was held in England) one of the qualifying round games was South Africa playing against Japan. Everyone expected South Africa to win because they are former world champions and one of the best rugby nations in the world, while Japan are an emerging nation in rugby. I was covering this match for Reuters and they always have two photographers covering each game – the beauty of that is that we can have one at either end [of the pitch]. So, we tossed a coin at the start of the game and I went to one end and the other photographer went to the other end.

In the first half, I had South Africa running at me and although I can’t remember the exactscore at half time, I think it was fairly even. Where I was sitting there were probably about ten photographers in my corner and nearly all of them moved to the South Africa attack end at the second half. It made sense because they were the favourites, and everyone thought there was no way Japan were going to beat South Africa. I figured I’d have a quiet half, that’s just the way it goes sometimes. I’ve been in the game long enough to know that you never know where the story is going to come from. It could be a bad tackle, or a player sent off or their top player might be injured and can’t make the rest of the tournament. You just have concentrate on the game and that’s key.

At the time, Japan were managed by Eddie Jones (who is now the England manager) and they gave everything on the pitch. They scored a try literally in the last minute, right by my corner. Because the match was held at the Amex Stadium in Brighton [England], there were only a couple of thousand fans there from South Africa and Japan. The rest were just fans of rugby, so the stadium pretty much erupted when Japan scored that winning try. Apart from New Zealand winning, it was probably the story of the whole Rugby World Cup to be honest.

Japan's Karne Hesketh celebrates with team mates at the corner of a rugby pitch with cheering crowd in the background
Japan's Karne Hesketh celebrates with team mates after scoring their third try to win the game (Reuters / Eddie Keogh)

This was one pic among loads, but it’s the key moment, where you can see a South African player on the floor, the Japan players celebrating, you can see the rugby ball and you can see the post has been knocked over. It tells the whole story and you can tell from the player’s and crowd’s reaction that this is a big moment. The stadium went crazy, but there was still probably a minute left of time of the game. In that minute I’m sending pictures from my camera. My camera talks to a MiFi unit, so I can send directly from the camera to an FTP, at Reuters in London. They’ve got a team there, believe it or not, who know ALL the players and who are all mad on sport, so they can work out who scored the try and who is in the picture. Then they caption the picture and it’s sent by satellite around the world. We’re talking about within five minutes of this happening; the picture would have been in Japan and whichever news outlets want to use it will use it. That’s what Reuters do – they take great pictures and move them really quickly.

That split second in time, you can’t rewind it, that’s it

Sometimes you realise that something amazing is happening, but you’ve got a job to do and that’s always in the back of your mind. Things can happen so quickly, honestly, one split second – bang – there it is. Gone. And it will never happen again. That split second in time, you can’t rewind it. If you didn’t get it in that split second, then you’re never going to get it. You haven’t got a lot of time for turning around and enjoying the atmosphere, you’ve got to make sure you’re on it. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely enjoy being there, but I can’t enjoy it like a spectator. I can’t jump up and down, I have to get those moments, that’s the important thing and that’s what I’m there for. That’s what I’m paid to be there for.

But it doesn’t always happen, I’ve been to many games where I might as well have not been there at all, when it all happens at the far-end and you get nothing. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. Swings and roundabouts. I’m not perfect, I’ve missed pictures on occasion (just don’t tell the boss at Reuters!). I’m very lucky in the respect that most days I go to work, I look forward to what’s coming up. I’m very lucky to get a front row seat at all these events. I’m very privileged. I’ve been doing it for 36 years professionally, so to still enjoy it after that time I know I’ve got something right.”

Written by Eddie Keogh

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