Africa’s representatives at the World Cup, South Africa and Namibia, who are both in Pool B, will be in action this weekend.
South Africa’s Springboks will take on defending champions, New Zealand All-Blacks on Saturday, while Namibia take on Italy on Sunday.
Japan wins World Cup opener
Hosts Japan on Friday won the tournament opener against Russia, running out 30-10 winners after being given an early scare by the Russians.
Kotaro Matsushima scored a hat-trick of tries, as the hosts recovered from conceding an early try.
After an opening ceremony featuring a dazzling laser light show and appearances by Japan’s Crown Prince Akishino and All Blacks great Richie McCaw, there were quickly a few fireworks on the pitch.
The Russians, laid on as sacrificial lambs for the opening party, stunned the noisy crowd of 48,745 into silence when they pounced on a Japanese error and scored the tournament’s first try through winger Kirill Golosnitskiy in the fourth minute.
Man of the Match Matsushima replied with Japan’s first try seven minutes later but it was not until he went over for his second just before the break that the error-prone home side took the lead at 12-7.
Japan looked more direct after the break and flanker Pieter Labuschagne soon extended the lead with an individual effort, stripping the ball from an opponent and then running a third of the pitch to touchdown under the posts.
Russia kept coming at the home side but 12 minutes from time Matsushima again showed his pace on the outside to secure the bonus point that might be key to Japan’s hopes of advancing from Pool A, which also includes Ireland, Scotland and Samoa.
“You get out there and realise just how much pressure there is on the night,” Japan coach Jamie Joseph told reporters.
“Our kicking game was pretty poor tonight so we’re going to fix that up quickly,” he added, conceding that his team made a lot of unforced errors.
The Russians next take on Samoa on Sept 24, while Japan go up against the number one-ranked Irish in Fukuroi City on Sept 28 in a match the hosts will be desperate to win if they wish to progress to the quarter-finals for the first time.
They will need a much-improved performance to get anywhere close to what would be a stunning upset to rank with their win over South Africa at the 2015 World Cup.
New Zealand focused on South Africa clash
Defending champions New Zealand say they are focusing all their energy on the World Cup opener against South Africa on Saturday, which they consider to be their most challenging match.
The two old rivals, who have won the World Cup five times between them, meet in Yokohama to kick-start the tournament and lay down a marker for the weeks to come.
With Italy, Namibia and Canada the other teams in Pool B, regardless of Saturday’s result New Zealand and South Africa would expect to qualify for the quarter-finals.
It means the All Blacks, who are chasing a third consecutive World Cup, will be holding nothing back on Saturday.
“We’re actually not thinking too far ahead in this tournament right now because this weekend is a pretty big weekend, isn’t it?” assistant coach Ian Foster said on Tuesday.
“And it’s kind of made it really good for us as coaches because we can just put all our energy into that first game.
“Whichever way it goes then I guess we can sort out the plan that we follow after that.”
South Africa come into the tournament having only lost once in their last seven matches, including a draw with New Zealand in July. The Springboks were victorious when the two sides met in Wellington this time last year.
That means New Zealand are way of the threat posed by coach Rassie Erasmus’ team and are looking at the match more as a standalone contest than a World Cup tone setter.
“We’re at a heightened state always when we play South Africa,” said Foster. “I know the World Cup is big but I guess our focus has been on this game for a while.”
South Africa calls for fairness
South Africa’s Springboks on Monday called on the French referee Jerome Garces to treat them as equals during this weekend’s opening Pool B blockbuster clash with defending champions New Zealand.
Assistant South Africa coach Mzwandile Stick said that with the gap between the All Blacks and their potential rivals for the Webb Ellis Cup closing, match officials need to be consistent in how they applied the laws to all teams.
In the past, World Cup-winning All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, a wizard in the loose, was often accused of influencing referees to rule in his favour at the breakdown.
“The fans are excited by this one and looking forward to it,” former South Africa sevens specialist Stick said of the Saturday’s showdown in Yokohama.
“Hopefully the officials maybe will treat everything equally and respect the game and also respect the fans.”
South Africa topped New Zealand in this year’s Rugby Championship and Ireland are currently ranked world number one but Stick said the All Blacks remain the team to beat.
“If you look at previous history when it comes to the All Blacks, they’ve been dominating at Test level and it’s always the case that whenever they go to the World Cup they are favourites,” he said.
Recent history between the Boks, who are blooming under coach Rassie Erasmus, and Steve Hansen’s All Blacks promises to make for a tight encounter on Saturday.
“Things are a lot more balanced between us an New Zealand right now,” Stick said.
“We can’t ask for any better build-up towards the World Cup: if you look at the last three games we played against the All Blacks, in Wellington last year we won by two points, they came to Pretoria and won by two points, and then we drew against them again this year in Wellington.
“We’re looking forward to this challenge, it’s going to be a tough one… against one of the best teams in the world and given the history between the two teams.”
South Africa defeats Japan
South Africa cruised to a comfortable 41-7 victory over Japan on Friday in their final World Cup warm-up match, thanks to a hat-trick of tries from Makazole Mapimpi.
Winger Cheslin Kolbe opened the scoring with a neat finish on seven minutes, before Mapimpi ran in two easy tries from the other flank as the Springboks built a 22-0 lead at halftime in Kumagaya.
Further tries from Mapimpi and Kolbe either side of Kotaro Matsushima’s consolation and a final flourish from Herschel Jantjies secured victory for South Africa and helped soothe the memory of Japan’s famous win at the 2015 World Cup.
With this victory, South Africa laid down a tournament marker and gained revenge for defeat four years ago, while Japan must look for improvement in their World Cup opener against Russia on Sept. 20.
South Africa and Namibia, who will be representing the African continent at this month’s Rugby World Cup, are finalising preparations that they hope will be sufficient to secure glory.
Both teams are in Pool B, along with defending champions New Zealand, Italy and Canada. Hosts Japan will open the World Cup against Russia on Sept. 20 in Tokyo before South Africa face old rivals New Zealand in Yokohama. Namibia play their first match against Italy on Sunday 22.
South Africa raring to go
South Africa, who have won the World Cup twice, are set to play their final warm-up match against hosts, Japan.
The Springboks will be wary of Japan who caused one of the biggest upsets in tournament history with their 34-32 victory over them at the 2015 World Cup in England.
“You can definitely see this is a much different team, much more fitter, much more stronger. Their systems are working and they know exactly what they are about, they know their strengths and weaknesses,’‘ said Siya Kolisi, South Africa’s captain ahead of the match.
Namibia seeks maiden victory
Namibia will be seeking their first ever World Cup victory, 20 years after they debuted at the prestigious tournament.
They are banking on the experience of their Welsh coaches to end a 19-match losing streak.
Former Wales forward Phil Davies has been in charge of a team known as the Welwitschias, a sturdy desert plant, since just before the last World Cup in 2015.
Davies works with compatriots Mark Jones (backs) and Dale McIntosh (forwards) as assistant coaches, while another Welshman, Wayne Proctor, is responsible for strength and conditioning.
“This is not a case of jobs for the ‘boyos’,” Davies stressed. “They are used to working with full-time and part-time professionals and that is what we have in the Namibian squad.”
Scrum-half Eugene Jantjies is set to play at a fourth consecutive World Cup and says the Welwitschias’ aim continues to be finding a winning formula.
“This is the best squad we have had for many years and after coming so close to winning four years ago, I believe we can create history in Japan,” he said.
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