Japan plots another upset
Since January this year, coach Jamie Joseph has prepared Japan’s Brave Blossoms, stressing the need for different game plans for each opponent at the Rugby World Cup.
Before each match, the reserve players have been studying the tactics of their opponents’ scrum and then replicating that in practice, giving the starting pack ideal preparation.
This has resulted in Japan consistently challenging their much heavier opponents at scrum time, something they will need to do on Sunday when they take on South Africa in the quarter-finals.
“We make a firm strategy for a good scrum,” said scrum coach Shin Hasegawa on Wednesday. “(Hooker Takuya) Kitade and (back row Yoshitaka) Tokunaga are contributing and help us build our scrummaging strategy.
“(They make us realise) what we want to do and what sort of scrum we want to have. When they are able to do this it gives us immense confidence.
“When an opponent changes, our scrummaging changes and players change.
“When we feel that we need to educate each player (on various way of scrummaging), non-team members help us and give us comfort.”
Japan know they will need all their wits about them against the experience of two-time champions South Africa in Tokyo.
Boks plot for Japan match
South Africa’s assistant coach Mzwandile Stick says the Boks must find a way of stopping high speed Japanese ‘Ferraris’ if they are to prevail in the World Cup quarter-final on Sunday.
Japan have electrified the World Cup with their high-tempo game plan devised by coaches Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown with wingers Kenki Fukuoka and Kotaro Matsushima the chief beneficiaries of the speed at which the team are playing.
Matsushima is the tournament’s joint-top try scorer alongside Wales’ Josh Adams with five, while Fukuoka has crossed four times, twice against Scotland on Sunday, which helped the Brave Blossoms into their first quarter-final.
“Jamie Joseph compared their two wings (Fukuoka and Matsushima) to Ferrari cars, so we have to not allow those Ferraris to go to fifth gear or sixth gear,” Stick told reporters in Tokyo on Tuesday.
“We must make sure we are at our best with our defensive systems, because they are very skilful and have quick players.”
The fact South Africa could end the host nation’s run through the tournament had not been lost on the Springboks, especially with their news conferences heavily attended by local media.
“Playing against the host nation, we know they are going to be playing with a lot of passion, and the supporters are going to be behind them,” he said.
“We could hear the vibe at the stadium at Yokohama (for Japan against Scotland) when watching on TV. It’s going to be a tough challenge.”
South Africa will take on the Brave Blossoms in a quarter-final fixture that will inevitably evoke memories of Japan’s shock 34-32 victory over the Springboks in Brighton at the 2015 World Cup.
The Springboks coach, Rassie Erasmus said on Monday they had deliberately played a warm-up fixture against Japan ahead of the World Cup to try and dampen down any talk of the Brighton Miracle.
“In all honesty, the reason for that warm-up game was to erase the Brighton game, so that if we do play them in play-off games, that game hopefully doesn’t get mentioned again,” Erasmus told reporters ahead of their quarter-final on Sunday.
“It’s 1-1, and now we go into a quarter-final game against a really tough team. That (Brighton) game is in the past now.”
South Africa comfortably won that September 6 match, 41-7, but Erasmus acknowledged that their pre-tournament clash would have absolutely no bearing on how both sides played at Tokyo Stadium on Sunday.
Wales will take on France in the day’s other quarter-final. Defending champions New Zealand play against Ireland, while England take on Australia in Saturday’s quarter-final matches.
Typhoon Hagibis affects matches
Organisers of the Rugby World Cup deemed the risk from Typhoon Hagibis so high that they cancelled matches for the first time in the tournament’s 32-year history.
With the huge storm set to potentially devastate parts of Japan, Italy’s game against New Zealand in Toyota and England’s match against France in Yokohama on Saturday have been cancelled while Japan’s game against Scotland on Sunday is also in doubt.
The host nation would advance to the quarter-finals for the first time if their game in Yokohama is called off.
“While making every possible effort to put in place a contingency plan that would enable all of Saturday’s matches to be played, it would be grossly irresponsible to leave teams, fans, volunteers and other tournament personnel exposed during what is predicted to be a severe typhoon,” said tournament director Alan Gilpin.
“We fully appreciate that England, France, New Zealand and Italy fans will be disappointed, but we trust they will appreciate that their safety must come first.”
Super Typhoon Hagibis is heading north toward Japan’s main island and could make landfall on Saturday, with torrential rain, high winds, storm surges and high waves expected.
As it stands, New Zealand will finish top of Pool B with South Africa going through as runners up.
South Africa vs Canada
South Africa celebrated their 500th test by storming into the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals with a 66-7 victory over Canada on Tuesday.
The Springboks ran in six tries in the first half hour at Kobe Misaki Stadium, and Canada’s woes deepened a couple of minutes before halftime when replacement lock Josh Larsen was shown a red card for an illegal shoulder charge at a ruck.
The Boks had wrapped up the bonus-point they needed to secure their quarter-final berth by the 18th minute, with the best of those tries coming from Reinach as he picked up the ball at the base of a ruck inside the Bok 22 and scythed through a gap in the defence.
The Boks will find out who they face in the quarter-finals on Sunday.
Ticket target hit
Rugby World Cup organisers announced on Friday they had hit their target of selling 1.8 million tickets during the tournament.
Despite fears that crowds might be sparse in Japan, not a traditional rugby nation, fans have turned out in their droves, packing stadiums even for games not involving tournament heavyweights.
World Rugby chief Bill Beaumont said the tournament had “captured the hearts and minds of a nation and the global rugby family” and congratulated the Japanese organised for hitting their milestone.
There are now a “limited” number of tickets available on the official ticketing website, as sponsors and nations hand back some seats, organisers said.
“While tickets remain available, our advice to fans is to only buy through official channels to avoid being disappointed,” said Beaumont.
Ticket prices vary widely, from 100,000 yen ($936) for the best seats at the final, to 2,000 yen for the cheapest entry to the pool game between USA v Tonga.
South Africa trounce Italy
South Africa took a critical step towards qualification to the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup when they crushed an Italy side reduced to 14 men for most of the second half 49-3 on Friday.
The win at Shizuoka Stadium took the Springboks above the Italians and New Zealand to the top of Pool B.
The ever-dangerous Cheslin Kolbe scored a try in each half and Bongi Mbonambi, Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi, RG Snyman and Malcolm Marx also crossed to comfortably earn the twice World Cup winners a bonus point.
Italy’s already tricky task became nigh on impossible when they had prop Andrea Lovotti sent off for dropping Duane Vermeulen on his head in the 43rd minute and their slim hopes of progressing now rest on beating the All Blacks for the first time.
“It was tough in the beginning, we knew what the challenge would be and that it would be a forward battle, so from the first scrum we wanted to give everything,” South Africa captain Siya Kolisi told reporters.
“We wanted to control the set-pieces, because they are very strong in that, and we did that today.
“It’s been a tough couple of weeks but we have regrouped. Our coaches and management have been backing us by giving us as much information as possible and the way we responded today was really good.”
Italy had spoken before the game of how discipline would be crucial in deciding the outcome but they specatacularly failed to back their words with action as they battled to match the physicality of their fired-up opponents.
“We played against a very strong side,” Italian captain Sergio Parisse said. “We tried to come back in the second half but after the red card it was very difficult.
“It’s tough for us, but we must keep going forward. We are very disappointed, but we must try and finish well against the All Blacks (on Oct. 12).”
Spectator from space
South Africa’s clash against Italy will be watched by millions of fans across the planet, and one Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano who will be cheering on his team from space.
Parmitano will be watching Friday’s Pool B match from the International Space Station as it orbits some 400 km above the earth.
Italy are looking to upset the Springboks and reach the knockout stages for the first time.
Parmitano, who has been in space since July, had a message for the Italian team.
“You are a team and have to work all together to reach your goal, which is that of winning,” he said in a video posted by the European Space Agency and the Italian Rugby Federation.
It is not the first time Parmitano has broken new ground in space.
In August he became the first person to DJ in space when he played a set from the ISS for a club in Ibiza.
Boks make changes ahead of Italy clash
South Africa have made a few changes in their ranks ahead of the crunch Rugby World Cup Pool B clash against Italy at the Shizuoka Stadium on Friday.
The Boks made three changes to their first-choice pack as they brace for a muscular forward challenge from Italy.
Two of the switches are in the front row as hooker Bongi Mbonambi and experienced prop Tendai Mtawarira come in for Malcolm Marx and Steven Kitshoff respectively.
Lock Lood de Jager, who did not start against New Zealand in their opening fixture, has also been preferred to Franco Mostert as coach Rassie Erasmus looks for continuity in the line-out after a six-day turn-around from the 57-3 victory over Namibia in Toyota City.
“This game is going to be decided by the forwards and at the set phases and we wanted to maximise our options in those battles,” Erasmus told reporters on Tuesday.
“For us this is a crunch game, it’s do-or-die. We will do what we have to do, if we have to grind it out, no matter how we do it, win with a drop-goal or something, we will do it to get out of the pool stages.”
The Boks have chosen a six-two split on the bench, overloading with forwards – hooker Marx, props Kitshoff and Vincent Koch, locks RG Snyman and Franco Mostert, and loose-forward Francois Louw, another sign that Erasmus is concerned about the battle in the pack.
It means the only backline cover comes from utility back Frans Steyn and scrum-half Herschel Jantjies, but Erasmus feels they have enough versatility on the pitch to cover for any eventualities.
“People may think it is a gamble to have only two back replacements, but we want to have plenty of ammunition for what is likely to be a major forward battle.
“It’s a 23-player game these days and the players who come on will be expected to contribute almost as much in game time as those who start among the front rowers.
“Frans can cover (number) 10, 12 and 15, Damian de Allende can play at 13, Cheslin (Kolbe) can play scrumhalf or full-back and Faf (De Klerk) can even play as a flyhalf if needed. So we have a lot of options.”
Centre Jesse Kriel has not been considered as he recovers from a hamstring injury picked up in the opening 23-13 loss to New Zealand.
Team: 15-Willie le Roux, 14-Cheslin Kolbe, 13-Lukhanyo Am, 12-Damian de Allende, 11-Makazole Mapimpi, 10-Handre Pollard, 9-Faf de Klerk, 8-Duane Vermeulen, 7-Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6-Siya Kolisi (captain), 5-Lood de Jager, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Frans Malherbe, 2-Bongi Mbonambi, 1-Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16-Malcolm Marx, 17-Steven Kitshoff, 18-Vincent Koch, 19-RG Snyman, 20-Franco Mostert, 21-Francois Louw, 22-Herchel Jantjies, 23-Frans Steyn.
The Italians also made changes of their own with South African-born Braam Steyn shifting from number eight to the side of the scrum to accommodate the return of talismanic captain Sergio Parisse.
The match is a must-win game for both sides as they seek a quarter-final berth and will have a knockout feel, with Parisse’s vast experience of 141 caps and five World Cups adding huge value for the Italians.
Steyn will provide muscle, South African know-how and foraging at the breakdown for what Italy coach Conor O’Shea expects to be a brutal physical battle.
“We feel this is the best squad that we could have selected based on the specific game-plan we have for South Africa, so we are very pleased to have everyone fit and available,” O’Shea told reporters in Shizuoka on Wednesday.
“It’s going to be a massive physical challenge and these guys will have to front-up, otherwise we have lost the game before it has even started.”
Italy have a full haul of 10 points from their two Pool B matches but must still face New Zealand after their meeting with the Boks.
Team: 15-Matteo Minozzi, 14-Tommaso Benvenuti, 13-Luca Morisi, 12-Jayden Hayward, 11-Michele Campagnaro, 10-Tommaso Allan, 9-Tito Tebaldi, 8-Sergio Parisse (captain), 7-Jake Polledri, 6-Braam Steyn, 5-Dean Budd, 4-David Sisi, 3-Simone Ferrari, 2-Luca Bigi, 1-Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16-Federico Zani, 17-Nicola Quaglio, 18-Marco Riccioni, 19-Federico Ruzza, 20-Alessandro Zanni, 21-Sebastian Negri, 22-Callum Braley, 23-Carlo Canna.
Ecstatic Japan players
Japan’s stunning victory over Japan victory put the host nation in pole position to qualify for the knockout stages and it will surely lead to an explosion of interest in Japan.
“Thank you for today!” Japan hooker Shota Horie said to the crowd after being named man of the match. “Thanks to your cheers, I was able to run to the last centimetre, the last millimetre.
“The tournament still continues, let’s fight calmly and let’s fight together. Thank you for today!”
Veteran forward Luke Thompson echoed those sentiments.
“I am so happy but it’s not finished yet,” he said. “We will concentrate for the Samoa game from tomorrow. We practised the breakdown a lot. Good team work today. I am happy.”
Coach Jamie Joseph said the stunning victory, which matched the upset of twice world champions South Africa at the last World Cup in 2015, had been long in the planning.
“We’re ecstatic about the result,” the New Zealander said.
“We’re really proud of the players, we had a plan, we’ve been training for a long time. We’ve been thinking about this game for quite a long time, obviously Ireland have been thinking about it for the last six or seven days.
“We’ve got another couple of games to go but we’ll enjoy tonight I reckon.”
Japan next face Samoa on Oct.5.
South Africa vs Namibia
South Africa claimed their first victory at the Rugby World Cup, emerging 57-3 victors over Namibia at the City of Toyota Stadium on Saturday.
South Africa ensured that there would be no repeat of the upset earlier in the day by Japan, who beat Ireland, as they ran in nine tries in a slick display.
“All in all, a great performance from the boys…”
Springboks</a> captain Schalk Brits gives his thoughts after his side beat Namibia 57-3 at <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RWC2019?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#RWC2019</a><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RSAvNAM?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#RSAvNAM</a> <a href="https://t.co/a2B4y6AymV">pic.twitter.com/a2B4y6AymV</a></p>— Rugby World Cup (rugbyworldcup) September 28, 2019
The Springboks next face Italy on Friday in Fukuroi City in a match that should decide second place in the pool, while Namibia face the daunting prospect of meeting New Zealand in Tokyo on Oct. 6.
Japan upset Ireland
Hosts Japan stunned Ireland 19-12 in an extraordinary upset on Saturday to win their second match of the Rugby World Cup and give themselves a strong chance of reaching the knockout stages for the first time.
The Brave Blossoms came from behind at Shizuoka Stadium to beat a side recently ranked number one in the world in a shock to match their victory over twice world champions South Africa at the 2015 World Cup.
UPSET! UPSET! UPSET!— Usher Komugisha (@UsherKomugisha) September 28, 2019
Japan ?? stun world number 2 Ireland ?? 19-12 in front of their own fans. Stuff of dreams! Wow! Wow!
Wear green and Japan will punish you. Ask the Springboks! Scenes in Fukuroi. ? #JPNvIRE #RWC2019 pic.twitter.com/OTkMHvjbIp
JRFURugby</a> - worthy winners today with an incredible performance and amazing support. Thanks to our own fans who cheered us to the last - wonderful as always.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ShoulderToShoulder?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ShoulderToShoulder</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/JPNvIRE?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#JPNvIRE</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TeamOfUs?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#TeamOfUs</a> <a href="https://t.co/XLlMsWnzfE">pic.twitter.com/XLlMsWnzfE</a></p>— Irish Rugby (IrishRugby) September 28, 2019
“It’s difficulty to put into words, just really proud of the boys…”
JRFURugby</a> captain Pieter Labuschagne gives humble interview after historic first win over Ireland at <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RWC2019?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#RWC2019</a><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/JPNvIRE?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#JPNvIRE</a> <a href="https://t.co/e2nJaiq5yk">pic.twitter.com/e2nJaiq5yk</a></p>— Rugby World Cup (rugbyworldcup) September 28, 2019
Namibia relishing opportunity to take on Boks
Minnows Namibia take on their neighbours South Africa in what they believe will be an exciting Rugby World Cup encounter.
“The nerves are sky-high, it’s something that I have been dreaming of my whole life. I can’t explain the feeling, it just feels very big,” Namibia centre PJ Walters told reporters on Friday.
Walters, who made his international debut off the bench against Italy in the 47-22 loss last Sunday, says his main aim is not to “try anything stupid”.
He played in the fullback position against Italy, but he will line up at the City of Toyota Stadium at inside centre and will likely have a busy evening as the much more fancied Springboks batter the Namibia defensive line with their powerful runners.
As for a gameplan, he said his focus is on sticking to the instructions of coach Phil Davies.
“Stick to the basics… do everything that we have been training on in the last few months. And don’t try anything stupid!”
There is a chance that the enthusiasm of the Namibians may get the better of them and in a World Cup where overzealous, and high tackles are already a major talking point, Walters says the players are well-aware of the consequences.
“It’s on our minds (about high tackles), you know you can get cited. The low cut is the best tackle you can get, so we must just stick with that,” he said.
Walters, 26, is one of many players in the Namibia squad who have been exposed to South African rugby through their schooling and studies.
Born in the tiny southern Namibian town of Keetmanshoop, he was schooled across the border in Upington in South Africa’s Northern Cape.
He was part of the academy of the Johannesburg-based Golden Lions, but never managed to break into the professional scene in the country.
That failure makes Saturday’s clash all the more significant for Walters, giving him a chance to prove his ability, and perhaps put himself in the shop window for professional South African and European clubs.
“When I got the news (of a World Cup call-up) I was having a braai (barbecue) with my cousin and just chilling. Coming from where I come from, it was a very, very big thing for me,” he said.
“There will be no love lost on Saturday because it is against our neighbours, but we also represent Africa together.
“I just think it will be a great clash, a great atmosphere and a big opportunity for us (as players).”
New Zealand, Ireland are good: Boks
South Africa’s coaching staff say New Zealand and Ireland have been the most impressive teams at the Rugby World Cup so far, adding that the Springboks emerged stronger from their 23-13 loss to the defending champions.
“Apart from New Zealand they were the only other team that put in a full 80 minutes of constructive, well-planned, decisive and clinical rugby (in the opening matches),” Bok coach Rassie Erasmus said.
“Physically and tactically they were really good, the same as New Zealand. Those are the two teams that I think have been really consistent in the last two years and they will both be a really tough opponents.”
We are stronger: Boks
The Springboks dominated large parts of their match against New Zealand on Sept. 21 but were undone by two tries in four minutes from the world champions, both coming from South African errors in fielding high balls.
‘‘I know it is a cliché that everybody says when they lose, that ‘we learnt a lot out of it’, but we did. For us it was a great match in terms of tactical, physical and getting challenged in all departments,’‘ Erasmus said.
“Mentally … the build-up during the week, the enormousness of the game, the physicality and speed. You know if you play the All Blacks and you make two errors, it is 14 points (against you), so it was nice to play in a game like that where there is so much pressure.”
The Boks are next in action against minnow neighbours Namibia in Toyota City on Sept. 28 and have made 13 changes to their side in what is expected to be a comfortable win.
South Africa are widely expected to breeze to a bonus-point win over Namibia, which lost its opener 47-22 to Italy, but Nienaber said there are no specific targets in the game other than to put in a performance that showcases what the team has worked on in training.
“We have had an unbelievable vibe at training in terms of the intensity and the things we wanted to fix. Our system will develop and New Zealand opened up something in the way they attacked and their style of play that we have to work on, so it was nice to get that (challenge).”
“We are always trying to improve, so there is no points limit, or to say, ‘if we only concede three points that would be a good defensive performance’, or ‘if we concede 30 I will be disappointed’.
New Zealand regains top rank
Defending champions New Zealand are back to the top of the world rankings, following their Rugby World Cup victory over South Africa.
The All Blacks’ decade-long reign at the world’s number one ranked team came to an end last month, first losing the mantle to 2019 Six Nations champions Wales and then to Ireland.
According to the intricacies of how the standings are calculated, New Zealand would have returned to the summit with a win over their Rugby Championship rivals, regardless of how Ireland did against Scotland, World Rugby said.
In the event, the world champions beat the Springboks 23-13 while Ireland cruised past the Scots 27-3.
South Africa’s defeat pushed them down to fifth, below Wales who start their World Cup campaign later on Monday against Georgia. France’s dramatic victory over Argentina pushed them ahead of Scotland into seventh spot.
Rugby fans react to opening weekend
Our Rugby team keeps making it to the world cup, THE WORLD CUP guys?. But the support of the Namibia is dololo, but let our soccer team just win a friendly match and everyone is going crazy.?♀️— BubblesQueen?? (@mickykaapama) September 20, 2019
Namibia impress despite loss
Namibia impressed many rugby fans and pundits, despite falling to a 47-22 loss against Italy, in their Pool B opener at the Hanazono Rugby Stadium in Osaka on Sunday.
Italy scored three tries within the space of 10 minutes either side of halftime to give themselves some breathing room against a stubborn Namibia side.
Namibia, who have now lost all 20 of their World Cup matches, still managed to give the crowd something to cheer with tries to scrumhalf Damian Stevens and wingers J.C. Greyling and Chad Plato.
The Italians now travel to Fukuoka to meet Canada on Thursday, while Namibia face South Africa in Toyota City on Saturday.
South Africa lose New Zealand clash
New Zealand emerged 23-13 victors over South Africa in a clash between two World Cup favourites on Saturday that never quite lived up to its billing.
Having wrestled the Rugby Championship from their rivals last month, South Africa pinned a scrappy New Zealand back for 20 minutes but, with only three points to show for it, the Springboks were left stunned by two scintillating team tries from wing George Bridge and lock Scott Barrett.
The All Blacks, who have an 11-day break before their next game against Canada, should go on to top Pool B and hope for an easier quarter-final as a result. South Africa next face Namibia in Toyota City.
“It was the full 80 minutes and right to the end of the test match we had to work (hard),” New Zealand captain Kieran Read said.
“Good fortune sometimes happens and in those two moments we managed to take them and that made the difference in the game.”
Read suggested that a greasy ball coming off the Yokohama pitch had made life difficult for the players.
“We had to defend early, but when we did get opportunities we tried to speed up the play a bit but it was pretty tough out there with the conditions.”
The Springboks had the physicality to match New Zealand but not the precision, with too many missed tackles, at times aimless kicking and poor hands under the high ball gifting away territory.
“We didn’t start well and they did, handling our kicking game really well,” Bok captain Siya Kolisi said.
“And a little bit of their physicality as well, I think we took too long to get into the game.
“We stuck to our guns in the second half and we scored first, like we planned, but we couldn’t capitalise on our opportunities.”
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.
READ MORE: South Africa names squad for 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan