The Springboks should look to control the contest on Sunday by throwing a wrench into the gears of the Japan attack, writes JON CARDINELLI in Tokyo.
The Boks are playing a smart game, both on and off the field.
On Monday, more than 70 journalists packed into a conference room at the team hotel in Shinjuku to hear what Rassie Erasmus had to say about the upcoming quarter-final against Japan.
Fewer reporters were around for the chat with assistant coach Mzwandile Stick and several players on Tuesday, and yet the mood and flow of the media conference was much the same. The Boks are going out of their way to talk up the Japan attack.
Stick said that he admired what the Brave Blossoms are trying to achieve with their phase play and offloading game. He gave the dozens of local journalists in attendance their headlines when he drew comparisons between Japan and the All Blacks and highlighted the threat of the ‘Ferraris’ – wings Kenki Fukoka and Kotaro Matsushima – in the wider channels.
Duane Vermeulen admired Japan’s 50-minute ball-in-play goal. All the coaches and players couldn’t say enough for Japan’s ambition to play the game at a breakneck speed.
There were a few statements, however, that put the praise into perspective. Erasmus, Stick, Vermeulen and Lukhanyo Am all admitted that the Boks would stick to their own plan and strengths ahead of the do-or-die clash in Tokyo.
The Boks aren’t, as some have suggested, going to try and out-Japan Japan.
The Bok set piece will hold the key to victory. Vermeulen and the loose forwards will be tasked with slowing the ball down at the breakdown and ultimately stalling the flow of that dynamic attack.
The Japan halfbacks have already been targeted. Those Ferraris in the wider channels will remain in neutral gear if their pack is failing to secure the ball and their halfbacks are on the back foot.
It’s not a matter of fighting fire with fire this Sunday. For the Boks, it’s about pouring ice-cold water on the flame of Japanese ambition.
Stick wasn’t too pleased when it was suggested by a South African journalist that the Boks will test Japan with the high ball. The assistant coach reacted as if someone had revealed a state secret.
It seems an obvious ploy, though, for a team that’s often placed an emphasis on the kick-chase and attacking a fractured defence. The Boks are going to apply the pressure and then feed off opposition mistakes this Sunday.
It’s not hard to understand why the Boks are talking up Japan and encouraging them to push the tempo. A faster approach has its risks, and the Boks are better equipped to punish Japan’s errors than Scotland were last week. The counter-attack is where we should see South Africa’s own Ferraris – Cheslin Kolbe, Makazole Mapimpi and Willie le Roux – shifting into high gear.
The Boks must stifle and stall Japan at the rucks and apply the pressure via a well-executed kicking game. They must ensure that this match is a stop-start scrap rather than a free-flowing spectacle that may favour Japan’s strengths.
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