Japan vs Springboks Live : Two weeks ago, Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus described it as a “scary” prospect. It got a whole lot scarier this week.
South Africa is now in Japan’s way at the Rugby World Cup and the two-time champion will have to be at its strongest and at its sharpest to avoid becoming another one swept aside by an exhilarated home team and host nation in the quarterfinals this weekend.
Rankings mean nothing. Ask Ireland, rugby’s top-ranked team coming into the World Cup and then run off its feet by Japan in a shocking upset in Shizuoka.
Previous records mean zero, too. Ask Scotland, which had beaten Japan in seven out of seven previous tests and led the Japanese early in the last game of the pool-stage before having the carpet yanked out from under their feet in Yokohama on Sunday.
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Japan is in the quarterfinals for the first time and the scene may never be better set for such an outsider to threaten the Rugby World Cup final. Beat South Africa, as Japan has done before at the World Cup, and then it’s Wales or France for a place in the final. Seems outlandish, but tell Japan that after all that’s happened.
If the Springboks and Erasmus didn’t see it coming, it’s not because they haven’t been warned.
They were asked countless times through their pool-stage games what they thought of the possibility of playing Japan in the quarters. For the most part, they answered in typically cautious fashion: It’s not decided. It could still be Ireland or Scotland. We haven’t thought that far ahead.
The one moment Erasmus did let his guard down was on the day Japan upset Ireland. The Springboks were playing Namibia in Toyota City and Erasmus was late for his team’s on-field warmup. He was watching Japan and Ireland do battle on TV somewhere in the stadium and he couldn’t take his eyes off it.
It was then that Erasmus conceded playing Japan was “a realistic option. And also a scary option.”
The Springboks have two memories of Japan in test rugby and they couldn’t be further apart. There’s the so-called Miracle of Brighton, when the Japanese left rugby flabbergasted by beating the Springboks at the 2015 World Cup.
But what of the most recent meeting? Three weeks before Japan stunned the World Cup again to beat Ireland, it played South Africa in a World Cup warmup game in Kumagaya. The Springboks won 41-7 and the Japanese seemed meek. They were nothing like the ferocious, non-stop force they were against Ireland and Scotland