Former captain Jean de Villiers says South Africa need to surprise Rugby World Cup hosts Japan with variety if they are to win their quarter-final clash in Tokyo on Sunday.
De Villiers was a guest on Pro14 Rugby podcast Under the Sticks where he explained while it seemed the Boks had picked a side filled with power, they need to concentrate on variety in attack outfox the host nation.
De Villiers was the captain of the Bok team that famously lost to Japan in Brighton at the 2015 World Cup, but says a loss to the host nation this weekend wouldn’t be considered one of the most famous upsets of the game because of the way the Brave Blossoms had progressed since then.
‘You can tell a lot by the way the side has been picked. It is the same team that has played against Italy and certainly the approach there was to go in with a very physical game plan and overpower the opposition, which they did,’ De Villiers said.
‘It was probably the best showing from the Boks throughtout the World Cup and they were angry, angry in defence, hitting guys back in the tackles and on the attack, while also being able to get that momentum. Against the All Blacks they were able to do it for a short period of time, but probably not getting the results they wanted and I suppose the points’ dominance they wanted given their physical dominance.’
‘Japan will be a similar challenge. They are a team that can really hold onto the ball for a lot of phases and you really need to starve them of possession and make them tackle and score points while doing that. It makes for a great game, and it will be quite a physical approach from the South Africans – a lot of mauling, a strong scrum and then getting dominance from the ball carriers to put pressure on the Japanese defence.’
But De Villiers warned his compatriots against getting too ‘predictable’ in terms of a game plan and strategic planning in the quarter-final.
‘They certainly won’t expect to go into this game and be predictable. You have got to have variety. Otherwise Japan will just chop them down at the legs, compete at the breakdown and look for turnovers. It is important to have those big runners, but also to have variety on the outside and to shift the contact point,’ he explained.
‘If you don’t have that it becomes very predictable and in times in the past we have found ourselves wanting because we just do that and there is no other plan to fall back on. I would like to see a bit more variety from the Boks. Yes, we want physical but also subtle touches and a little bit of a change to how we attack as well.’
De Villiers was full of praise for Rassie Erasmus, saying the experience the Bok coach had absorbed during his time at Munster changed his outlook for the game.
‘People underestimate the value he got from going to Munster and spending time away from South Africa in a totally different environment with different players and guys who look at the game a bit differently,’ De Villiers explained.
‘He brought that back to South Africa and became a much better coach. Rassie had always been the kind of guy who had the ability to be a world class coach and when he was coaching us at the Stormers he was brilliant, but I think going into a new environment and learning from that has been good for him.
‘What he has done is change everything around. He is meticulous in his planning and you can see this puzzle fall into place. All his planning was done way before the World Cup, he studies the game and he has a good team around him and they are getting the best out of the players. It is a happy environment and once you have a coach who gives confidence to the squad, you get the results.’
De Villiers added Japan’s progress puts the ‘Brighton Miracle’ defeat four years ago in context and showed the Brave Blossoms aren’t a tier-one nation anymore.
‘In a way it puts that result in context now, and I’m not alone anymore. It was a shock but I think now we have all realised that if that happens again it won’t be a shock anymore. They have shown they are contenders on the world stage and they aren’t a tier two nation anymore,’ said the ex-Bok skipper.
‘They can compete with the best and can do it on a consistent basis now, and that is great for world rugby. We felt bad and felt terrible for disappointing people but now looking back you take it on the chin. Credit to them for the progress they have made.’
The quarter-final between the Boks and Japan on Sunday kicks off at 12:15.
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