TOKYO, 20 Oct – A preview of the quarter-final match between South Africa and Japan, which kicks off at 19:15 on Sunday at Tokyo Stadium.
The Big Picture
South Africa insist that they put 2015's Brighton Miracle behind them when they beat Japan 41-7 in a World Cup warm-up match in September. But the reality is, this is the Springboks' chance to finally avenge that last-minute 34-32 defeat four years ago.
The selection of six forwards among the replacements is a clear indication of coach Rassie Erasmus's strategy – attempt to bully Japan's pack with a physical onslaught for the full 80 minutes.
But will that be enough? The hosts have captured the imagination of the rugby world with their thrilling, quick-paced style of play, which was too much for Ireland and Scotland.
They shift the point of contact as much as possible to keep defences guessing, and Brave Blossoms coach Jamie Joseph will call on his players to move the bigger Boks team around the field to tire them out.
It is a tactic Erasmus is aware of, and one that his players will have to work incredibly hard to negate.
"The match 23 is probably our best - in-form, fit players - which is why I went with the six-two (forwards to backs) split," he said.
"To nullify the space around the tight forwards, with the pace that they have, and to play towards our strengths, which is physical rugby, set phases, mauling, scrums.
"We will try to play the game at our pace, they will try to play the game at theirs."
The concern for Japan is being able to raise themselves again physically and mentally after their last Pool A match against Scotland, which took place last Sunday night.
There was a lot of uncertainty and emotion ahead of the match due to Typhoon Hagibis, and it seemed to show as Scotland fought back in the second half.
In contrast, the Springboks last played on 8 October, against Canada, and are well rested.
🚨Team announcement🚨— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 17, 2019
Here is the @Springboks team to take on hosts @JRFURugby in the quarter-finals at #RWC2019.#JPNvRSA #WebbEllisCup
Find out where you can watch at https://t.co/z0BgdPYBjN pic.twitter.com/z84IobZgKS
"In some ways, we had to reset, it was a very physical game against Scotland, so we had the benefit of having a long week," said Japan coach Jamie Joseph.
"We chose to give the first two-and-a-half days to refresh, didn't put too much rugby into players, if anything at all.
"We didn't really start training until the third day. I think that has helped a hell of a lot. It allowed the players not just to get over the Scotland game, but also absorb what they've achieved."
Now it's all or nothing at Tokyo Stadium, something Springboks captain Siya Kolisi feels his team are ready for after adopting a "do-or-die" mindset since losing to New Zealand in their opening pool game.
For Japan skipper Michael Leitch, it is about surpassing the Brighton Miracle.
"The world was shocked and became aware of Japan with that game four years ago, and the game still lives in the memories of Japanese fans too," the flanker said.
"This time, we have the chance to show them live. It's more about how much we can show our strength rather than who the opposition are. It's a good thing people in Japan can watch it first hand."
Form guide (most recent matches first)
South Africa: WWWLW
Played 2 – South Africa 1W Japan 1W
In the spotlight
While wingers Kenki Fukuoka and Kotaro Matsushima have made the headlines for their superb displays, Erasmus has singled out scrum-half Yutaka Nagare as Japan's key man.
"Their number nine, the guy who gets their game going, who cleans the breakdown fastest at the World Cup, the fastest at the breakdown," said the Springboks coach.
But will Nagare be able to withstand the pressure from the big South Africa pack, who will look to disrupt Japan's possession?
If he is able to provide his usual quick ball, the Boks could be in for a long night.
Similarly for South Africa, the performance of Faf de Klerk will go a long way in deciding the outcome.
When he first made the national team, the number nine was known for his running skills and fast service from the rucks.
Since then, the Boks' gameplan has dictated that the Sale Sharks livewire must execute several box-kicks instead, which does not always suit him.
De Klerk will need to be accurate with the boot, but also vary his play on attack to get the Boks going forward with ball in hand.
Erasmus has stuck with the tried-and-tested formula that won what turned out to be their most crucial Pool B match against Italy, with the same starting XV and replacements.
It was not an easy selection, especially with the likes of scrum-half Cobus Reinach (who scored a hat-trick), fly-half Elton Jantjies and wings Warrick Gelant and S’Busiso Nkosi impressing in the last pool match against Canada.
Japan full-back William Tupou has been ruled out after being concussed against Scotland, with Ryohei Yamanaka back in the number 15 jersey having started against Ireland.
Tight-head prop Jiwon Koo has recovered from a rib injury, while loose forward Amanaki Mafi is fit again to take his place on the bench.
🚨Team announcement🚨— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 18, 2019
The @JRFURugby team has been announced for it's first Rugby World Cup quarter-final against @Springboks #JPNvRSA #WebbEllisCup #RWC2019
Find out where you can watch at https://t.co/z0BgdPYBjN pic.twitter.com/gbmfgZWwv8
Stats and Trivia
Duane Vermeulen will play in his 50th test at number eight, the most for the Springboks in that position.
Japan fly-half Yu Tamura leads the points list with 48, while winger Kotaro Matsushima is the joint top try scorer with five, alongside Wales's wing Josh Adams.
"Japan fully believe they can beat us. If I'm honest with you, yes, I think we are the favourites. I’m not one of those coaches who sit here and say to you 'We are not really sure', because we prepare to win." – South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus.
"South Africa look really scary at the start of the week, but we begin to feel really excited as we understand the game and think about how to break them down. That fear gradually fades and confidence rises." – Japan captain Michael Leitch.
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