Preview: Japan v South Africa
WORLD CUP QUARTERFINAL: This may just be the biggest occasion in the global showpiece’s history.
No other World Cup match has generated such excitement, not even the 1995 Final in Johannesburg, when the new South Africa became the Rainbow Nation.
After South Africa had won the Final in 1995, a cameraman asked the Springbok captain, Francois Pienaar, what it was like to have the support of 62-thousand South Africans, and the captain said: “David, we did not have the support of 62-thousand South Africans. We had the support of 45-million South Africans.”
On Sunday, Japan will have the support not only of 170-million countrymen, but of almost the whole rugby world.
Rugby has loved the World Cup in Japan, for the enthusiasm with which the Japanese people have embraced it, their participation in matches and the way their team has played.
It was not just that they beat Ireland, Scotland, Samoa and Russia – but the way that they played.
They have been the liveliest and most creative of all 20 teams at the World Cup.
Where others have concentrated on solid, sometimes dour, victory, the Brave Blossoms have played with joy – and they have won.
It is one of rugby’s most romantic stories, and, as Japan embraced the World Cup, so the world has embraced Japan and its team.
South Africa was expected to be in the quarterfinals, as they have been each time that they have been present at a World Cup.
However, Japan has never been there before and they did so by beating three teams that had been to quarterfinals before – Ireland, Scotland and Samoa. It is the stuff of dreams.
For the Springboks, there is the psychological danger of being caught up in the tide of emotion and also wanting the Japanese to do well.
Japan has the knowledge that they have beaten the Springboks before, and that was away from home at a World Cup when they did not do nearly as well as they have done this year.
And this year there have been repeated reminders of that victory, the Miracle of Brighton. Now there is a growing belief that a miracle will not be needed, for Japan’s rugby has come of age.
There will be Springboks running out onto Toyota Stadium on Sunday who will be taking with them the bitter humiliation of Brighton 2015 – Handré Pollard, Tendai Mtawarira, Eben Etzebeth and Lodewyk de Jager, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Francois Louw and the 2019 captain Siyamthanda Kolisi.
There will also be some of Japan’s team on Sunday who will be able to tell their teammates what it was like to beat the Springboks – Kotaro Matsushima, Yu Tamura, Fumiaki Tanaka, Hendrik Tui, Luke Thompson, who is the oldest player at the 2019 World Cup, Shota Horie, Keita Inagaki and Michael Leitch who was the captain then and is the captain now.
It certainly is an occasion to look forward to with increasing excitement.
World Cup So Far
Japan has won all four of their matches; South Africa have won three and lost one.
Japan beat Russia 30-10, Ireland 19-12, Samoa 38-19 and Scotland 28-21.
South Africa lost to New Zealand 23-13 and beat Italy 49-3, Namibia 57-3 and Canada 66-7.
South Africa have scored most points at the 2019 World Cup – 185 – and have also scored most tries – 27.
Japan have scored 115 points with 13 tries.
Japan will be wanting to play fast and loose, while South Africa will probably prefer a slower, more contained game. Japan will want their wings to shine while South Africa will look to their forwards to dominate before anything else.
Japan will want the ball away from scrums and line-outs quickly, while South Africa will want to use them as opportunities to exercise power. They are likely to maul from line-outs, for example, something the Scots did only three times as they seemed to want to do what the Japanese do – and play wide. South Africa is unlikely to follow the Scottish example.
Japan will want to continue with their exceptionally fast-moving of the ball from tackles, a combination of the tackled player who curls around the ball and moves it back quickly, the immediate support of the tackled player’s closest teammates and a fast-clearing scrumhalf.
Tackling low, i.e. below the waist, helps the Japanese to get quick ball. A counter to this would be the double tackle – one down below and one around the torso to keep the ball-carrier on his feet so that he cane then be driven back.
The problem with grabbing the torso is that it is nearer the neck and cards.
The Japanese have kicked little in general play, the South Africans more than any other side. Japan could welcome kicks if it can move the ball wide from the point of contact and counterattack.
Players to Watch
They are all, of course, worth watching, all 46 of them playing in the world’s best eight rugby teams.
Those whom Japan would want to stand out are their fast wings Kotaro Matsushima, who has scored five tries so far at this World Cup and has been excellent on defence, and Kenki Fukuoka.
South Africa also have speed on the wings. Cheslin Kolbe has been one of the stars of the World Cup so far. And then they have some great men in their pack, most notably Pieter Steph du Toit, a man of boundless energy and commitment.
Head to Head
Tight five versus Tight five in the set pieces. Here South Africa will have the upper hand but the Japanese are likely to be cunning, if the scrums, when Japan played Scotland, are anything to go by.
In that match, Japan put the ball into seven scrums. Only one collapsed as the ball was quickly in and out. The Scots put the ball into six scrums, every one of which fell down. Sometimes play was allowed to go on but at no scrum were the Scots able to exert force. Perhaps the Land of the Rising Sun is by design the Land of the Falling Scrum.
The Japanese do not kick the ball out. Of the line-outs the Scots had, all but two came from penalties which they kicked into touch. South Africa will have to get maximum use from line-outs. Here Lodewyk de Jager could be worth gold.
These two tight phases are important for performance at the battle of the breakdown. If South Africa exerts pressure in the tight phases, its loose forwards will start on their toes, Japan’s on their heels.
There are also individual match-ups – hooker Shota Horie against Bongi Mbonambi, flyhalf Yu Tamura versus Handré Pollard, captain Michael Leitch versus captain Siyamthanda Kolisi on the flank, Pieter-Steph du Toit against expat Pieter Labuschagne, who has been a star for Japan at the World Cup and on the wings, especially where Japan’s right wing Kotaro Matsushima and South Africa’s left wing Makazole Mapimpi face each other. Matsushima has been Japan’s outstanding back with his speed and verve while Mapimpi, a great runner with the ball, is not always the best-positioned defender.
But the most important head-to-head may be close to the forwards – scrumhalf versus scrumhalf, fast-passing Yutaka Nagare versus Francois de Klerk, taking his time to weigh up his options.
Bench versus Bench will be important. South Africa has six forwards, five of them tight forwards, which means that they can keep their power fresh. Japan has five forwards and three backs.
Goalkicker versus Goalkicker. At present Japan’s flyhalf, Yu Tamura, is the leading points’ scorer at the World Cup with 48 points in four matches. Pollard scored 22 points in the two matches in which he kicked for goal.
Discipline at this World Cup of many sanctionary cards is important. Neither of these sides has had a card for foul play.
In their four matches, Japan has been penalised 28 times, South Africa 27 times.
And then there is Japan’s extra player – the home crowd. The Brave Blossoms have known and will have it reaffirmed that their people are behind them. The Springboks will also know that their support, more muted for being far away, will be unwavering.
Prediction: There is a lot of guesswork in this sort of thing and even a head-vs-heart tussle, but we really do believe that, while the Springboks will not find the Brave Blossoms easy grazing, their pack will do what the Scots failed to do and win by 15 points or more.
Japan: 15 Ryohei Yamanaka, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Yutaka Nagare, 8 Kazuki Himeno, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Michael Leitch (captain), 5 James Moore, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Koo Ji-won, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Isileli Nakajima, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Wimpie van der Walt, 20 Amanaki Lelei Mafi, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23 Lomano Lava Lemeki.
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi (captain), 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Rudolph Snyman, 20 Franco Mostert, 21 Francois Louw, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Frans Steyn.
Date: Sunday, October 20
Venue: Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo (capacity: just under 50 000. This is the seventh match of the World Cup to be played there.)
Kick-off: 19.15 (10.15 GMT; 12.15 SA time)
Expected weather: Partly cloudy after days of rain with a high of 24°C dropping a little to 16°C
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Luke Pearce (England)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)
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