CRAIG LEWIS looks at three key areas of the game that will be decisive in this Sunday’s quarter-final between the Springboks and Japan in Tokyo.
Yes, OK, no surprises here. But there is no denying that this is an especially important battle up front that the Boks will be relishing. This is a Springbok pack that has the power and strength to dominate the scrum contest and maul Japan into submission.
It should be a simple modus operandi for the Boks. More than ever, this is a knockout clash where the Springboks will want to play to their traditional strengths of outmuscling Japan in the tight exchanges, while using the set piece and maul as a weapon of mass destruction.
By using their big ball-carriers, the Springboks will look to dominate the gainline battle and ensure that their halfbacks can dictate proceedings off front-foot battle. By keeping it tight up front, the Boks will aim to deprive Japan of possession and attacking opportunities, while searching to win penalties through a powerful scrum and maul.
Faf de Klerk is one of the Springboks who has faced a fair bit of criticism for the inconsistency of his box kicks. Similarly, Willie le Roux hasn’t quite had the same swagger as a playmaker, while he also hasn’t been quite so reliable with his important left boot. Both these players will want to step up on Sunday, while Handre Pollard will obviously have a key role to play when kicking both out of hand and at goal.
Japan wings Kotaro Matsushima and Kenki Fukuoka have received due praise at the World Cup for their sensational attack, but the diminutive duo should be tested under the high ball. What the Boks will want to ensure is that any kick to these players is highly contestable. Cheslin Kolbe has proven himself to be an effective nuisance when it comes to the kick-chase game, while Makazole Mapimpi has also honed his aerial game.
The weather forecast suggests it will be an overcast and muggy evening in Tokyo on Sunday, while there may be some rain around the day before the game, and so the handling of the ball will be a challenge. The Springboks won’t be expecting Japan to kick on them at all, but they should certainly be looking to test the hosts when it comes to the aerial contest, while also turning Japan’s attacking players around with kicks into space deep in their territory.
Bok defence vs Japan attack
It’s gone a little unnoticed that the Springboks in fact finished the pool stage as the leading team when it came to points and tries scored, but this Sunday’s quarter-final will primarily place a focus on the effectiveness of their high-risk, high-reward defence.
The Boks’ ‘outside-in rush defence’ has put the All Blacks attack under pressure in recent times, but there have also been occasions when top attacking teams have managed to exploit space out wide. In those instances, a massive onus then falls on the shoulder of the Boks’ cover defenders.
Former All Blacks flyhalf, and now Japan attack coach, Tony Brown will have undoubtedly spent plenty of time looking at ways for the home team to make best use of their attacking superstars, while investigating ways to break down the Boks’ aggressive defensive wall.
The Springboks will be looking to squeeze Japan when the Brave Blossoms have possession, while ensuring their fleet-footed players don’t have much time or space on the ball. If Japan have no joy getting the ball to the edges, then they may look to the tactic they used regularly against Scotland, which was to try to set runners away with an inside pass.
Again, it will up to the Boks to ensure that they have the defensive organisation and work rate to shut Japan down, and force errors through suffocating defence.
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