Mariette Adams and Dylan Jack debate which team the Springboks would prefer to face in the World Cup quarter-finals.
Adams says Japan
With Pool A – consisting of Japan, Ireland, Scotland, Samoa and Russia – thrown into disarray following Ireland’s shock loss to Japan, three teams are vying for the two quarter-final slots available heading into the last round of pool fixtures.
The top-ranked Japan square off against Scotland, and will know they only need two log points to advance. Scotland have to prevent that and win with a bonus point to stay in the competition, while Ireland have to beat Samoa to progress. But in another twist, both these crucial matches are under threat from typhoon Hagibis in a trajectory heading straight for the venues where (and when) these games are scheduled to take place.
Various conflicting news reports abound, alleging the games will be rescheduled while others predict they will be called off. If World Rugby follows through on its earlier promise that pool games affected by inclement weather would be cancelled and regarded as scoreless draws, Japan will progress as Pool A winners and face the Springboks, while Ireland will go through as runners-up and take on the All Blacks. As for Scotland, well, they’ll be heading home. World Rugby is set to issue an update on Thursday on the way forward should the destructive Hagibis make landfall at the venues in question.
I, for one, don’t much care whether the matches are rescheduled or cancelled altogether. What I would prefer, is for South African to come up against Japan in the quarter-finals. There’s an argument doing the rounds in order to be the best, the Boks must beat the best and the best apparently include Ireland instead of Japan.
Well, Japan have the best team in Pool A so far, after inflicting a 19-12 win on the Irish. But there’s another, more selfish, reason why I’m hoping for a clash with the hosts. Japan shocked the Boks – and the world, mind – with a 34-32 win in the pool stages of the 2015 World Cup. I don’t think it’s a humiliation Bok rugby will ever really live down. Many a Bok fan is still showing symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), while many also consider the mere mention of the so-called ‘Brighton Miracle’ in bad taste.
A rematch (and a different result) at the same tournament would serve as some sort of redemption for the Bok players who were part of the team four years ago. It would improve South Africa’s win record against Japan from 50 to 66.6% and alleviate some of the unease and distress many supporters still feel.
In all seriousness, though, Japan may lack the tactical kicking game that Ireland would bring to a quarter-final clash, but the host nation plays fast-paced, attacking rugby similar to the All Blacks. Perhaps that is the sort of test the Boks need most, in the lead-up to a potential final against New Zealand.
Facing Ireland would be a different challenge altogether, as they will match the Boks pound for pound in the tighter exchanges and that would be valuable preparation for either side before a semi-final and final. But should South Africa face Japan and advance, they won’t want for physical prowess, a confrontational forward battle and an effective kicking game. It is a World Cup after all and you can only play what is in front of you.
And, with all due respect to Japan, South Africa have a much better chance of overcoming them than they do Ireland.
Jack says Ireland
While refusing to be drawn too much into what he called a ‘loaded question’, Rassie Erasmus did highlight the threats posed by both Japan and Ireland when asked who he would prefer to face in the playoffs.
In doing so he pointed to the fact that Japan had won the Pacific Nations Championship and outplayed Ireland in their group stage win. He also highlighted that while Ireland pose a threat in the air, Japan try and hurt the opposition through building phases and running them off their feet.
In this case, I feel the Boks would probably prefer to face Ireland in the quarter-finals. While they were excellent in the first half of their win over Scotland, Ireland have been slightly off-colour since then, battling past Russia (a game where they only managed two tries in the second half) and obviously losing to Japan.
Ireland do have a better aerial game than Japan, but also tend to be more focused on wearing opponents down by taking the ball through as many phases with their forwards as possible.
As Japan showed in their win, if you can outmuscle Ireland’s forwards, you have a genuine chance of forcing them to play a loose game, something they don’t particularly enjoy. With the Boks’ forwards as in form as they are, you wouldn’t bet against them being able to force Ireland off their ball.
Playing Japan, though, means you are playing against a team not afraid to mix things up and take risks. Japan are also possibly the fittest team in the tournament, able to outwork most others. They would have the backing of a home crowd, which would play an important part psychologically.
Let us also not forget the Springboks have a secret weapon in defense/attack specialist Felix Jones, who has been inside Joe Schmidt’s camp and knows plenty of how Ireland would organise themselves.
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