New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has paid Japan the ultimate compliment by saying they were happy to avoid the Brave Blossoms in the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
The All Blacks and Japan finished top of their respective pools and as a result will not meet in the playoffs, except should both teams reach the final.
Japan will come up against the Springboks in the quarter-finals, while New Zealand are pencilled in for blockbuster last-eight clash with Ireland. But Hansen, who labelled Japan’s win over Scotland as ‘awesome’, was adamant he is happy to have avoided a knockout match against the high-flying Brave Blossoms.
‘It’s a good way to play footie, isn’t it. It’s worked against Ireland and now Scotland – and their other pool opponents as well. People have said, “Who do you want to play?” Well, they’re the in-form team, so I’m quite happy they are on the other side of the draw,’ Hansen explained.
‘Without a doubt, they would have to be considered like they are playing and performing like a tier-one nation.’
‘They’re now in the top eight in the world on performance and they’re playing quality rugby, so I think Japan [as a nation] should be very, very proud of them. What a marvellous thing for the tournament. They’ve given the game a boost, I think. They’ve given Japan rugby a boost. And they’ve given Japan a boost after what was a pretty horrific weekend.’
Rugby World Cup quarter-finals lineup:
England vs Australia (Saturday, 09:15; Oita)
New Zealand vs Ireland (Saturday, 12:15; Tokyo)
Wales vs France (Sunday, 09:15; Oita)
Japan vs South Africa (Sunday, 12:15; Tokyo)
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