While the Springboks have grown to love the country and the people they will show Japan no mercy in the World Cup quarter-final this Sunday. JON CARDINELLI in Tokyo reports.
The Boks travelled by bullet train to Tokyo on Monday afternoon. By the time they arrived at their hotel in Shinjuku, an army of journalists had gathered in the media conference room.
The Japanese media has taken a shine to the Boks since they first arrived in the country at the beginning of September. Local interest in the South Africans has spiked appreciably, however, since it was confirmed that Japan will host the Boks in the quarter-finals.
Rassie Erasmus said that the team as well as the management have grown to love the people and culture over the past six weeks. While he went out of his way to pay his respects to the nation and the team, he reminded all and sundry that the Boks have a job to do and that they would park their affinity for Japan until after the game.
‘It’s really tough not to like Japanese people,’ the Bok coach began. ‘The way they’ve accepted all the teams at this World Cup, not just us South Africans, is something special. It’s something I’ve never experienced before in my life.
‘The way they’ve handled the typhoon – and I know there have been losses of lives and in many other forms – just shows the strength of Japanese people. To still host that game on Sunday and to beat a team like Scotland [28-21] are amazing.
‘Having said all that, we are playing for our country and we want to win the World Cup. So now, for the next week, Japan are our enemy,’ he said with a smile.
‘We love the country and we love the people, but we have to try and beat Japan. They are deservedly ranked sixth or seventh in the world and we will have to play well to beat them.’
Erasmus said that the Brave Blossoms have improved a great deal since the teams last met in early September.
‘Japan are varying their game. They kicked the ball eight times against Scotland whereas they kicked the ball 32 times against Samoa. They’re a team that can adapt to the opposition.
‘With coaches like Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown there, they really analyse the opposition well. They play to their strengths but also work to expose the opposition weaknesses. So, playing against them is a big tactical challenge.
‘We won’t go with the same plan that we had in the warm-up game. We will have to match their pace and speed. Plan A that worked in the warm-up game won’t work this weekend.’
There was a lighter moment at the conference on Monday when a local journalist asked Erasmus to comment on the cries of ‘Leeeeeitch’ that rang around the Yokohama Stadium on Sunday whenever Japan captain Michael Leitch touched the ball.
It would appear that the Japan fans have found a local answer to Beast Mtawarira.
‘Hopefully when they say “Leeeeeeitch” they will inspire the Beast as well,’ Erasmus said. The veteran prop seated next to the coach let out of a roar of laughter.
‘When I heard that last night I thought that it was really nice that they know about South African rugby. They know about Beast.
‘That’s why it’s difficult not to like Japanese people. They quickly adopt things. I enjoyed it and I’m sure Beast did too.’
Photo: Steve Haag Sports via Hollywoodbets