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South Africa captain Siya Kolisi does not believe his side need to ramp up their mental state to face quarter-final opponents Japan after insisting they have been playing ‘do or die’ rugby since touching down in the Far East.
The Springboks will have to battle the Brave Blossoms – as well as the lions’ share of the sell-out 50,000-strong crowd at the Tokyo Stadium – if they are to reach the last four. But it will be no easier a challenge than the one they faced in their tournament opener, when Rassie Erasmus’ side kicked-off against reigning champions New Zealand.
A 23-13 defeat left the Boks with no margin for error but they refused to blink and took care of Namibia, Italy and Canada with minimum fuss. And Kolisi believes his men have shown they can cope under pressure, having survived three win-or-bust encounters to reach the knockout stages.
He said: “Luckily for us it’s been do-or-die since the first game, so we have been in that mindset for a couple of weeks now. Sunday is not like any other Test match. It’s play-off time now. We have all prepared for it mentally and the coaches haven’t put that kind of pressure on us. But we know what needs to be done. I don’t think anybody needs to tell us that this is a big game. If we don’t know that already then we are in the wrong place.”
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The Boks need no warning over the threat posed by the hosts, having been on the sore end of the biggest upset the sport has ever seen four years ago when Japan claimed a shock 34-32 win at the last World Cup. Kolisi started among the substitutes that day in Brighton and had been subbed on and then off again by the time Karne Hesketh wrote his name into the rugby history books as he ran in for the try that stunned the world.
Yet South Africa recovered from that loss to reach the semi-finals that year and recently went some way to exorcising the ghosts of 2015 by thrashing the Japanese 41-7 in a warm-up clash just two weeks before the current tournament got under way.
Should lightning strike twice, however, Kolisi hinted it would be no shock given the rapid improvements made by Japan, who have already toppled Ireland and Scotland on their way to the quarters. Kolisi said: “That was very tough to lose that match in England. That stuck with us until that game when we got here (before this World Cup). It’s something that we never want to go through again.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 18, 2019
“But they are a much better team now. It was good to play that game before the World Cup, just to get that monkey off our back. Now it’s a different game again. We are going to have to be at our best again because they have really improved as a team. They are much better now than four years ago so we are looking forward to the challenge.”
Yutaka Nagare, meanwhile, says Japan can expect to face a hand-to-hand battle with South Africa but believes the speed and energy of the Brave Blossoms might just be enough to overcome the Springboks’ brute power. Erasmus has made clear his intention to test the hosts’ physicality levels during their quarter-final clash by naming six forwards on his bench.
Japan scrum-half Nagare knows his team do not match up to their opponents when it comes to the scales. But he insists the high-tempo game plan that has already left both Ireland and Scotland in a daze can have the same effect on the Boks. He said: “I’ll definitely lose if I go head-on (with the South Africans). I have to use my technique given I’m small.
‘Alleviating pressures is really important. It’s a hell of a complex job to create a winning, competitive environment’
– Former @AllBlacks Wayne Smith tells @JLyall93 about coaching and culture in Japan where @rugbyworldcup has captured hearts and mindshttps://t.co/Z4Qi0q8ZoI
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) October 19, 2019
“The try (Finn) Russell scored in the Scotland game started off with my mistake so I really felt responsible, and I feel they’ll look to attack me in the next game, as well as near the try-line. But I’ve decided to go in determined to play with pride for this team. I’ll keep my mind strong. I’ll take them on carrying both mind and technique.
“I want to play smart. They’ll come at us head-on. We know, as you can see from their line-up, they’ll look to make it a forward battle, play a physical game. We need to fight properly there of course but it’s important to play the ball smartly and make it a quick battle.
“I’ll keep myself calm and communicate and energise the forwards. It will be real hand-to-hand combat and tough, but I’ll keep giving energy to them and the team. I’ll look to connect players through my communication and keep executing the gameplan the coaches showed me.”
WATCH: Former Australian international Matt Giteau sits down with RugbyPass in the latest episode of Rugby World Cup Memories
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