Hosts Japan to face the Springboks in the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals

Rassie Erasmus's conservative game plan of tactical kicking and territorial dominance didn’t pay off on the scoreboard in the Rugby World Cup match between South Africa and New Zealand at International Stadium Yokohama, in Yokohama, Japan, on September 21 2019.
Rassie Erasmus's conservative game plan of tactical kicking and territorial dominance didn’t pay off on the scoreboard in the Rugby World Cup match between South Africa and New Zealand at International Stadium Yokohama, in Yokohama, Japan, on September 21 2019.
Image: REUTERS/Annegret Hilse

There were times in this colosseum of thunderous roars that hosts Japan played like a force of nature.

Jamie Joseph’s team on Sunday invoked the spirit of a nation unbowed by the devilish destruction left in the wake of super typhoon Hagibis to cement their place in the quarterfinals of the Rugby World Cup (RWC).

Their win meant they top pool A and now have a date with Rassie Erasmus’s Springboks in Tokyo next Sunday.

It also means Ireland‚ who finished runners’ up in the pool‚ will play New Zealand.

It will pit two teams recently ranked No 1 in the world against each other‚ but who said the RWC is fair?

In fact‚ if this match was never played‚ the spectre under which the bulk of the build-up occurred‚ it would have robbed the world of sport of a glorious spectacle.

Japan again showed they are not just willing‚ but very capable adversaries.

The Springboks had the measure in a RWC warm-up match‚ winning 41-7 in Saitama two weeks before the start of the tournament‚ but the beast they are likely to run into in the nation’s capital are very different.

It can perhaps be reasonably argued that coach Joseph kept his powder dry on that occasion but in next week’s clash all hands are likely to be on deck.

Scotland were at times swept aside by a team that came at them at 100 miles an hour but it is to their credit that they came back to return the game to the realm of contest in the final quarter.

It will be those moments Erasmus and his coaching team will pore over in the coming days.

Earlier on in Sunday’s clash Japan’s passing game was utterly mesmeric. They ran onto the ball at speed‚ offloading before firm contact was made thus cleverly and deftly shifting the point of attack.

They also ran intuitive support lines lending momentum and energy to their attack. At that point it looked as if the Scots were chasing shadows.

Wings Keita Inagaki and Kenki Fukuoka proved influential again but at the heart of the battle hooker Shota Hori and inspirational captain Michael Leitch toiled long and hard.

Japan were able to foist upon Scotland a game of speed and precision but they were equally game in the tackle.

Much under appreciated is Japan’s defence.

There too they reap the rewards for collective endeavour often gang tackling more hulking ball carriers into retreat.

In the second half when the hosts started to tire‚ Scotland were able to isolate individual defenders and made headway. Erasmus would have taken note.

Scotland‚ staring down the barrel at 28-7‚ rallied as the hosts lost some of their intensity.

A strong charge close to the line by South African-born tighthead WP Nel edged them closer and when Finn Russell threw the ball in himself before setting off on a typically deceptive run that led to a try for Zander Fagerson‚ the cat was among the pigeons.

Japan‚ however‚ is a place where resolve and stoicism flows freely.

They kept the now home-bound Scotland at bay.

Whether they can weather a Springbok storm will be revealed in a week’s time.

Scorers

Japan (21) 28 - Tries: Kenki Fukuoka (2)‚ Kotaro Matsushima‚ Keita Inagaki.

Conversions: Yu Tamura (4).

Scotland (7) 21 - Tries: Finn Russell‚ WP Nel‚ Zander Fagerson.

Conversions: Craig Laidlaw (2)‚ Russell.

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