Rugby World Cup quarter-final: Japan v South Africa
Kick-off: 11.15am Irish time, Sunday. Venue: Tokyo Stadium. How to follow: The Irish Times liveblog will begin at 10.45am. On TV: Live on Eir Sport, RTÉ2 and ITV.
South Africa will rely on their superior physical strength and the depth of their forwards to try and snuff out Japan's wildfire attacking approach in Sunday's quarter-final. At Thursday afternoon's team announcement in Tokyo, coach Rassie Erasmus declined to read through the selection name for name.
“I’m not going to read the whole team. It is the same team that played against Italy. There are no changes.”
Or in other words, they have made 13 changes to the side which routed Canada last time out. So South Africa have gone with a squad heavily attuned towards maintaining fierce forward pressure and physical attrition on the home team throughout the game. It emerged that Japan’s pack has been scrummaging against 10 players in training in order to try and simulate the power of the Springboks pack.
“If you look at the team selection, we’ve got a six-two split,” Erasmus said of his replacements.
“A lot of people would think we will be very forward and try to dominate. That is true in one sense but the way Japan attack is to try and exploit your bigger and tired forward defenders late in the first and the second half.
“We think that our team selection, having two fresh packs of tight forwards, we might nullify the space they might tend to try and use during the game.”
Erasmus hinted at two distinct teams over both halves, outlining that the decision to go with Bongi Mbonambi at hooker rather than Malcolm Marx was dictated by the expectation that the game will probably become looser after half time.
“The way we want to play Japan, with the pace they play, Bongi is definitely a more physical brutal and in your face hooker. Malcolm is the same mould but if the game opens up in the second half, I think both men will probably get 40 minutes and I think Bongi in the first half and Malcolm in the looser second half will benefit the team by selecting it that way.”
Sunday’s quarter-final offers a dream contrast of traditions and style. South Africa dominated their hosts in a warm up game in early December and the memory of their shock defeat four years ago in Brighton still rankles. But Erasmus acknowledged that his team are expected to end Japan’s euphoric unbeaten tournament run on Sunday.
“I think Japan fully believe they can beat us. If I am honest I think yes we are the favourites. We analyse and we prepare and do our best to be as ready as we can and I am certain Jamie feels the same. So both teams will believe they are favourites inside but I guess the crowd and media will form their own opinions.
“The biggest thing is in a warm up match the pressure is less. You can try a few things and play with more freedom. So I think that result is almost irrelevant. It puts the Brighton Test match out of the way. We can forget Brighton and Kumagaya because the way that Japan have improved since then is amazing. But we feel we have improved too. Apart from four minutes against New Zealand when we conceded two tries, we feel we have played some good rugby and scored tries. It will be down to who handles the pressure the best.”
South Africa: Willie le Roux; Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi; Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk; Tendai Mtawarira, Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe;Eben Etzebeth, Loedwyk De Jager; Siya Kolisi (captain), Pieter Steph du Toit, Duane Vermeulen.
Replacements: Malcom Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Vincent Koch, RG Snyman, Franco Mostert, Francois Louw, Herschel Jantjies, Frans Steyn.