High-tempo Japan hoping for Springbok deja vu
Japan's "unique" brand of high-tempo attacking rugby will face the acid test when it runs up against the blitz defence of a tough South Africa side in Sunday's World Cup quarter-final.
The World Cup hosts have already surpassed expectations by topping Pool A, notching up wins over Six Nations giants Ireland and Scotland, as well as Samoa and Russia.
Now the Japanese public want more, and are easily reminded of the Brave Blossoms' pool victory over the Springboks at the 2015 World Cup, one of the sport's biggest ever upsets.
"No we won't be drawing on that at all," was Japan coach Jamie Joseph's blunt assessment when asked whether that win four years ago, when just four of today's side started, was a motivating factor for the match at Tokyo Stadium.
"In fact, I've been trying to forget about it for the last four years. Everyone talked about it, but we're a different team, different players."
Current England coach Eddie Jones was in charge of Japan at the last World Cup before ex-All Black Joseph took over. He has instilled a huge self-belief and a simple game plan based around ball retention, exploiting the short side and explosive, running rugby.
It is a pleasure to behold, and Japan's four tries in their final pool victory over Scotland came in a purple patch that represented the most entertaining segment of rugby played so far at the tournament.
The performance was widely praised and drew many admirers, with former England scrum-half Matt Dawson saying Japan were playing a "unique" brand of rugby.
"The players have really taken over," Joseph said of the lead-up to the Boks game.
"It's a really good time as a coach because when you feel a little bit redundant you know there's real belief and confidence in the team."
- 'Do or die' -
Joseph made one injury-enforced change to his starting XV, Ryohei Yamanaka coming in at full-back to replace William Tupou, who drops out of the 23 after failing a head injury assessment.
There are five changes overall to the Brave Blossoms side that lost to 41-7 to South Africa in a World Cup warm-up game in September.
Joseph dubbed that game a "rehearsal" and said it was of massive benefit to Japan, a sentiment echoed by Springbok captain Siya Kolisi.
"It was good to play that game before the World Cup, just to get that monkey off our back," said Kolisi, South Africa's first black captain.
The Bok skipper admitted that the 2015 pool defeat had been "very tough", but backed his abrasive side, locked into knock-out rugby from the off after losing their campaign opener to New Zealand.
"It's something that we never want to go through again," he said of the 2015 defeat in Brighton.
"Now it's a different game again. We are going to have to be at our best again because they have really improved as a team ? they are much better now than four years ago."
Kolisi added: "Luckily for us, it's been do-or-die since the first game, so we've been in that mindset for a couple of weeks now.
"We know what needs to be done," he said, explaining that the key to a Bok victory was controlling the pace of the game and closing down Japan's exciting outside backs.
© 2019 AFP