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Japan vs Springboks Rugby World Cup quarter-final preview and prediction

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Roar Guru
19th October, 2019
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Hosts Japan are out to create more history as they face South Africa in the fourth and final quarter-final of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Japan’s 28-21 win over Scotland in their final Pool A match secured their first-ever place in the last eight.

Jamie Joseph’s side are looking to repeat their remarkable 32-34 win over the Springboks in 2015 when they stunned the two-time champions to cause one of the biggest upsets of all time.

Japan captain Michael Leitch – who went over for Japan’s first try in ‘The Brighton Miracle’ – has said his side have developed the mental strength to deal with the pressure of the World Cup knockout stage.

“Looking back, even since 2011, this team has grown so much and it is scary to think about how far this team could actually grow.

“The last four games, we are getting better each time, and the confidence is growing. This is great for Japanese rugby, for rugby in Asia and for tier-two rugby.”

Whilst almost all of the pre-match attention has been focussed on the hosts, the Springboks squad have been quietly preparing to write their own chapter in the history books.

Coach Rassie Erasmus has known his favoured team for some time and it no surprise to see his South Africa side packed with forwards.

“It’s no secret – I’m not giving away any team secrets,” he said.


“The match 23 is probably our best, in-form, current fit players which is why I went with the six-two split (on the bench).

“To nullify the space around the tight forwards, with the pace that they have. And the third one is to play towards our strengths, which is physical rugby, set-phases, mauling, scrums.

“We will definitely try to play the game at our pace, and they will try to play the game at their pace.”

Much of the attacking skill and quick handling Japan have produced has been honed in Super Rugby.

The Brave Blossoms were the stand-out side in the pool stage at their own tournament. Their stunning victories over Ireland and Scotland have inspired a new generation of rugby fans.

26-year-old Kotaro Matsushima became an overnight sensation with his hat-trick against Russia, and then went on to light up the Scotland match with a dazzling performance.

The Pretoria-born wing was the joint-top try-scorer in the competition coming into this weekend.

Japan also have a quality kicker and distributor at ten in Yu Tamura. The 30-year-old is the top scorer so far with 48 points.


Stories like this are what World Cup dreams of made of.

Japan Rugby Union

(Photo by Clive Rose – World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

If the fairy tale ends here, then you can be certain the Boks will have put in a heck of a performance.

South Africa are aiming to reach the Rugby World Cup semi-finals for the fifth time in seven appearances. Under Erasmus they are a solid outfit but also possess attacking potency of their own.

Cheslin Kolbe, who trained with Matsushima at under-20 level, was a star performer for his club Toulouse this year. The diminutive wing was sensational in the pool games and will be a serious threat out wide.

But what South Africa really relish is a physical battle. They will look to launch their powerful ball-carriers at the heart of the Japanese.

The scrum is one area that the Brave Blossoms have improved, but they will do well to just keep parity up front.

Japan know their real strengths lie in their fitness, set-piece routines and devastating line speed.


Team news
Japan have made one change to their starting line-up, bringing Ryohei Yamanaka in at fullback in place of the injured William Tupou.
Tupou suffered a concussion in Japan’s win over the Scots and is not involved in the matchday 23.

30-year-old winger Lomano Lava Lemeki is named among the replacements as cover for the back three.

Jamie Joseph also makes two changes to the bench with forwards Wimpie van der Walt and Amanaki Lelei Mafi replacing Uwe Helu and Hendrik Tui.

Loosehead prop Jiwon Koo has recovered from a rib injury and starts in the front row.

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Rassie Erasmus had rotated his squad through the pool stage to ensure his players all had game time before the knockout stages but has settled on the same matchday squad that crushed Italy 49-3.

Bongi Mbonambi is the starting hooker with Malcolm Marx coming off the bench.

South Africa’s key man Kolbe has returned from an ankle injury. Kolbe scored twice against Italy but was kept out of the Springboks’ final Pool B match against Canada as a precaution to ensure he was ready for the quarters.

South Africa defeated Japan 41-7 in a World Cup warm-up match in September and their power and big-game experience should see them ease through as comfortable winners.

It would be incredible to see the hosts keep the dream alive, but the Springboks should prove one step too far.

South Africa by 15.