Let us give Japan respect, as we would any side, but let us not give them undue airtime, writes former Springbok hooker JAMES DALTON.
Rassie Erasmus said the onus is on his Bok side to not give Japan an opportunity to make a sequel to their first movie, which detailed their victory over the shambolic Springboks in the opening game of the 2015 World Cup.
But this was a movie that should never have been made, an anomaly in Springbok and world rugby history, and a time that needs not be the centre of South Africa’s focus ahead of their final World Cup warm-up against Japan on Friday.
The Boks are expected to field a 23-man squad similar to the one that drew with the All Blacks in Wellington this year. Good. Let’s blow them away by 50 and carry on with the momentum that we’ve been building this year.
Friday is a fantastic opportunity for the Boks’ best to hit it out before the squad begins the rotation required during the World Cup pool stages.
I have respect for Japan in climbing to their highest ranking yet in world rugby, for growing the game in their country and, yes, for toppling 2015’s Boks.
But I have more of a lack of respect for the Springbok brand that approached that game in 2015. Japan, as conditioned as they are – and with as many advances as they’ve made rugby-wise – are not contenders.
Their advances economically and technologically, and as a top-class nation to host the Rugby World Cup, still far surpass their advances in the game itself. I simply do not believe that Japan have the depth of players, as represented on a smaller scale by the Sunwolves, to be considered playoff contenders.
As poor as Scotland have been in contrast to the quality of the rest of the home nations recently, they will without a doubt be second to Ireland in Pool A. And Japan will without a doubt be second to the Boks come Friday.
What the Springboks do need to consider however – in fact, every nation as they prepare for their stay at the World Cup – is that Japan is part of the continent of Asia. A country within a continent whose conditions are completely unfamiliar to the European and southern-hemisphere climates, where the majority of the world’s rugby is played.
I never played in Japan but I’d imagine the conditions are akin to Durban at 3pm where you hit it out in the humidity, and hanging on to the ball and retaining the air in your lungs is the first concern. This means the players need to acclimatise quickly; their fitness needs to be managed, as does their diet in what will also be a foreign experience food-wise, and the handling needs to be focused on as much as the pace of rugby needs to be prepared for.
The Springboks, along with every side going and expecting to make the playoffs, need to treat Japan the country with respect as unfamiliar territory, and give Japan the team due respect with their improvement in the last decade.
However, they also need not worry. Friday’s concern should be around the performance of Springbok players warming up for a brilliant World Cup, and not around any sequel to a movie that should never have been given the gap to get filmed.