Rassie Erasmus and the Springboks are in a confident space ahead of their quarter-final showdown with host nation Japan, writes JON CARDINELLI in Tokyo.
The Boks have been in Japan for nearly seven weeks. They’ve gone out of their way to engage with the local people and embrace the unique culture. The coaches as well as the players have described the journey as the experience of a lifetime.
That experience, however, has been secondary to their preparations for the tournament itself. The Boks haven’t come to the Far East to broaden their horizons. As Erasmus has stated on more than occasion, the Boks have come to Japan to win the World Cup.
Erasmus has stuck to his plan to split the squad over the course of the pool stage, selecting an ‘A’ team for the matches against New Zealand and Italy, and then a ‘B’ team for the games against Namibia and Canada. The team has built up some momentum over the past four weeks and is well placed to peak in the knockout stages.
On Thursday, Erasmus reiterated his respect for the Japanese people and the national team. That statement was quickly followed by a bold assertion regarding the Boks’ chances in the playoff at the Tokyo Stadium on Sunday.
Without being arrogant, Erasmus summed up the mood and belief within the Bok camp.
‘Japan believe that they can beat us. If you ask their coach Jamie Joseph he would say that deep down in his heart he believes that Japan are the favourites,’ Erasmus explained.
‘If I’m honest with you, I would say yes, I think that we are the favourites. I’m not one of those coaches who sits up here and says that they’re not sure.
‘We prepare to win. That doesn’t make it any easier to win, but we analyse and we prepare and we do our best to be ready to win. I’m 100% sure that Jamie and his team do the same.
‘Both teams will have great belief and that’s what will make it a great matchup.’
The crowd played a role in Japan’s monumental victory against Scotland last Sunday. Erasmus said that that unique energy will be harnessed by the Brave Blossoms once more in the quarter-final.
The Boks, however, are looking forward to the experience.
‘I’ve complimented Japan a lot this week and I’ve been sincere. We have a lot of respect for the way that they have hosted the tournament and how they have treated opposition teams,’ he said.
‘When we play on Sunday, it won’t be in front of a hostile home crowd. They’re very passionate, though, and it may be intimidating in that respect. We have to expect that.
‘We are looking forward to it. We quite enjoy how the Japanese fans support their team without being hostile.’
While the Brave Blossoms will have the support of an entire nation – and, as one foreign reporter intimated at a media conference on Wednesday, the rest of the rugby world – the Boks haven’t forgotten about their own fans back in South Africa.
‘We are a country with a lot of challenges, but we are a proud nation,’ said Erasmus. ‘All of us here at the Boks know that when we play we are representing a lot more than a team.
‘There won’t be a lot of South African supporters at the ground this Sunday, but there will be a lot sitting back home. We will be playing for them as well.’
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