Springboks / 20 October 2019, 09:24am / Jacques van der Westhuizen
JOHANNESBURG – They may be unlikely opponents but once rugby minnows, Japan, have got the full attention of the Springboks. And so seriously are Siya Kolisi and his men taking today’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final in Tokyo that the Boks have mentally elevated Japan to Tier One status.
Jamie Joseph’s team’s biggest Test result came four years ago when - under the guidance of Eddie Jones, who led England into the last four following their win against Australia yesterday - they beat the Boks 34-21 in Brighton, at the 2015 tournament.
Four years on, Japan are the fairytale story once again - just this time in their own country. They beat among others Ireland and Scotland in their pool on the way to qualifying for the quarters for the first time with a clean four-from-four record.
The Boks though will still be the favourites going into today’s clash - despite finishing as the runners-up in Pool B - and they’ll know the last time the teams met, some seven weeks ago in Kumagaya, they won 41-7 in their final warm-up game before the start of the tournament. But a lot has happened since that day which has left the Boks taking their hosts far more seriously on this occasion.
“Japan are a much better team now than they were that day (in Kumagaya), and they’re much better, too, than they were four years ago” said skipper Kolisi. “This is a different game altogether ... and we’re going to have to be at our best.”
Lock Lood de Jager agreed with his captain that Japan are no pushovers anymore and have gone from strength to strength at the tournament, cheered on by millions of passionate fans.
“They are still classified as a Tier Two nation but we do not see them like that at all,” said the big lock. They’ve improved immensely and this Sunday’s match is as big as any Test match against a Tier One team. It’s going to be a huge challenge.”
Both the Boks and Japan would have watched yesterday’s first two quarter-finals as the powerful physical and kicking games of England and New Zealand trumped the efforts of Australia and Ireland respectively. The Boks, too, play a forward-orientated power game, with lots of kicking, while Japan have so far opted to play a high tempo, quick passing game, which has brought them plenty of success.
De Jager said his side would have to be switched on for the full 80 minutes. “They’ll play to their strengths. They’ll try and pick up the pace of the game in all aspects, but we just simply have to be ready for it.
“For us ... we’ll just stick to what we know, and hopefully, execute properly.”
Kolisi, who’ll lead an unchanged Bok team from the match against Italy two weeks ago, onto the field today, said his players were fully aware of the threat posed by Japan and knew what was at stake. “We know what needs to be done,” he said.
“So, I don’t think anybody needs to tell us that this is a big game. If we don’t know that already, then we are in the wrong place.”
Providing something of a boost to the Boks today is the fact South Africa’s two former Rugby World Cup winning captains, Francois Pienaar (1995) and John Smit (2007), are expected to be in the crowd at the Tokyo Stadium. “It’s exciting and good to know ... it’s awesome to have that kind of support here,” said Kolisi.
If the Boks win today they will face the winner’s of today’s Wales-France clash in next week’s semi-final.
Today’s Springbok match against Japan kicks off at 12.15pm.