“They Know Who Will Play Japan” Rassie Said

(Photo Credit: Jorina Raath/Speedshots.co.za)

Pocket rockets Cheslin Kolbe and Herschel Jantjies are expected to be fit for the Springboks’ make-or-break Rugby World Cup quarter-final against Japan in Tokyo on Sunday.

The Boks transferred from Kobe to the capital city on Monday – a two-hour, 45-minute ride by bullet train – to be met by their largest media conference since arriving in Japan on 1 September.

Rassie Erasmus, South Africa’s director of rugby, said that he expected to have a full squad from which to choose.

“Internally our team has already been announced and they will both be in the team,” said Erasmus.

“We will have our first full training session in preparation for Japan tomorrow. We expect them to come through the training session so I would say they are 99 percent ready.”

The usual South African media corps was swollen significantly by the attendance of Japanese media and international press, drawn by the compelling story of Japan’s success at the tournament.

The Springboks will have the host nation against them, as well as the majority of neutrals, cheering on the Tier 2 nation.

It’s a tough position to be in, said Erasmus.

“The first thing is that it’s really tough not to like Japanese people,” he said.

“The way they have embraced all teams – not just South Africa – on and off the field, and adopting you as a city, putting on South African jerseys and making you feel at home is something special which I have never experienced in my life before.

“The way they have handled the typhoon – and I know there have been lots of losses in terms of lives and in different ways – and we send our condolences from South Africa and the Springboks to those people.

“But, again, it shows the strength of Japanese people to still host a game; play a game and beat a team like Scotland.

“However, while saying that, we are playing four our country and we want to try and win the World Cup and for the next week unfortunately Japan is the enemy for one week.

“We love the country, we love the people, but we have to try and beat them, and we have to play really well to beat them because they are ranked six or seven in the world and they deserve it.

“It’s going to be a really, really tough match for us this Sunday.”

Erasmus said he wasn’t surprised by Japan’s success and expected a closer game than the Boks’ 41-7 victory over Japan in Kumagaya six weeks ago.

“In the warm-up game there was no pressure; and I think the way Japan has embraced the pressure is really impressive,” said Erasmus.

“That pressure will be massive on Sunday and it will be interesting to see how both teams handle the pressure of expectation on both sides.

“For us, their success hasn’t been a big surprise. After our warm-up game I said in the press conference that if I thought if we were No 1 or No 2 in our pool, they would be No 1 or No 2 in their pool – so we’re not surprised.

“Every team so far; most of them have improved since the first game. I think we have improved since our first game against the All Blacks and since our game against Japan. And I think Japan are much better which makes for a great contest.

“The reason for that Japanese warm-up game was to erase the Brighton game so that if we do play them in the play-off game – hopefully that game doesn’t get mentioned again. It’s one-all now and we’re going into a quarterfinal game against a really tough team – I think that game is in the past now.”