Tokyo — South Africa will seek to run Japan’s fleet-footed “Ferrari” wing pairing off the road in this weekend’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final, assistant coach Mzwandile Stick said yesterday.
Kenki Fukuoka and Kotaro Munyaradzi Matsushima have been stand-out performers at the tournament, delighting home fans in scoring a hatful of tries thanks to Japan’s open, running style of attacking rugby.
But Stick vowed that the electric duo would be on the Springbok radar for the last-eight clash in Tokyo on Sunday.
Japan coach and former All Black Jamie Joseph previously compared their two wingers to Ferraris, given their raw pace.
“We have to not allow those Ferraris to go to fifth gear or sixth gear!” joked Stick.
Japan defied pre-tournament odds to win all their games to finish top of Pool A ahead of Ireland, who play defending champions New Zealand on Saturday.
And Stick said South Africa would be sure to not underestimate the Japanese team.
“They are a proper side at the moment. We don’t talk about a Tier Two side anymore, because they are ranked seventh,” he said.
“Whatever surprises they throw at us on the day, we must make sure we can handle those.
“We are also proudly South African, and we have our strengths that we will focus on.”
Japan’s 28-21 victory over Scotland in their final pool game, in Yokohama on Sunday, demonstrated a game plan based on ball retention, precision and speed of play.
It made for a wonderful spectacle of running rugby that has had not just fans in Japan purring but also pundits worldwide.
“Japan are a very good side. All the country’s excited and behind them and we’ve seen how much they have developed in the last couple of years,” Stick said.
Japan famously beat South Africa 34-32 in pool play at the 2015 World Cup, considered to be one of the biggest upsets in the sport to date.
In their second-ever encounter, the Boks saw off Japan 41-7 in World Cup warm-up match.
“When we played them a few weeks back, it was a warm-up game, there was obviously less pressure for both sides,” said centre Lukhanyo Am.We’ve seen how much they’ve grown over their last four games.
“Whichever team controls the pressure more comes out tops,” said Am, who will have his hands full containing Japan’s dangerous midfield combination of hard-hitting Ryoto Nakumura and deft playmaker Timothy Lafaele.
Stick said the way Japan were playing had the hallmark of a strong Kiwi-influenced backroom staff, calling out ex-All Black Tony Brown.
“We know the New Zealand philosophy about the game, and putting the ball through the hands,” Stick said.
“So, we can expect something close to how the All Blacks are playing. But when I’m watching them, they remind me of Argentina.
“That is one side where if they have time, they can be dangerous.
“We must make sure we are at our best with our defensive systems, because they are very skilful and have quick players.”
Meanwhile, England expect the Wallabies to play the “Australian way” when they face their familiar foes in a World Cup quarter-final this weekend.
The Australian game has long been synonymous with running rugby and few opponents have had a longer appreciation of its qualities than England defence coach John Mitchell.
“They just love moving the ball — I think that’s the Australian way as well,” Mitchell told reporters at England’s hotel in Beppu on Tuesday.
“They love ball in hand and they love playing so that’s to me very much their mentality, always has been and always will be.”
Mitchell was the head coach of his native New Zealand when they lost a 2003 World Cup semi-final to Australia.
Eddie Jones, in charge of the Wallabies back then is now Mitchell’s boss in the England set-up.
The much-travelled Mitchell’s coaching career also includes a spell in Australian rugby with the Western Force.
Many within rugby union have long argued Australia compensates for a relatively small playing base with coaching game intelligence – an opinion endorsed by Mitchell ahead of Saturday’s knockout clash in Oita.
“They will be clever on the weekend. They always are.”
England have won all six of their clashes against Australia under Jones — appointed after the Wallabies condemned the then hosts to a woeful first-round exit at the 2015 World Cup with a 33-13 victory at Twickenham.
But Mitchell said that record and his own knowledge of Australian rugby would have a limited impact on Saturday’s last-eight clash.
“It’s helpful but, like anything, this is a new contest. All you can do is look at and witness the threats that they’ve posed through the way they’ve played recently.
Australia coach Michael Cheika, who led the Wallabies to a World Cup final they lost to New Zealand four years ago after they condemned England to an early exit, suggested on Monday his staff spent too much time analysing the opposition.
Mitchell could see where Cheika, who played in the same side as Jones at Sydney club Randwick, was coming from – up to a point.
“I think it is really important to focus on your own strengths – I understand that comment,” he said.
“But part of any game plan is you have also got to look at what you can take away from an opposition as well because that creates pressure.
He added: “At the end of the day, having witnessed a number of teams play against Australia and also played against them myself as a youngster, they have always been highly intellectual in the way that they play the game and have always been clever and it something that I respect.”
Australia have several options at fly-half in Christian Lealiifano, Matt Toomua and Bernard Foley, with Mitchell only half-joking when he said: “I would like to know who the 10 is!”
Australia also have two distinct alternatives at outside centre in the hard-running Tevita Kuridrani and James O’Connor, more of a play-making midfielder.
“You could argue O’Connor is going to release his outside backs a bit more than Kuridrani,” said England centre Jonathan Joseph.
“But our system doesn’t change, we work in unison — 10, 12, 13 we are all working together and are going to solve it together.
“We are fully focused on ourselves and our ability to defend well.” — AFP.