(Photo credit: Clive Rose - World Rugby via Getty Images)
Japan in Japan is on everybody's lips and fast becoming the popular option for the supporters who's teams were already eliminated. Some serious claims are made crediting Japan with rewriting the playbook of rugby with fleet feet and silky skills, true or just a fairy tale with a horrible ending?
Japan relies on pre-contact footwork. If a 100kg forward and a 75kg back run directly at each other, the forward can be confident of winning that collision. However, If the back changes direction just before contact or accelerates suddenly, my weight is a disadvantage. I need to be light on my feet to get in position to tackle the carrier. Suddenly, the 75kg back has an advantage.
When you are attacking, you can hammer down the door, or you can use the key. Japan found a key for each of their pool opponents but can they unearth the one that dismantled South Africa four years ago?
The rugby playbook which Japan has torn up, says you should try to play in one direction. Playing consistently in the same direction forces the defenders to move around the breakdown. If you recycle the ball quickly, you should find the defenders cannot move around in time, resulting in an overlap.
If you just attack without a plan, the defence remains static, and logic says they will not leave gaps because they are not moving. Japan do not follow that logic. When Japan move the ball with as much speed as they have done, they can go left and right and still avoid a set defence. Scotland could put big hits on the Japanese attackers as they were constantly being forced backwards.
Japan's new handbook states that rugby is a game of evasion and Japan are embracing that. They may not have huge ball carriers like England or South Africa, but they have speed and agility in their attack depending on the disintegration of their opponents' defence to win the game.
Unfortunately, I do believe that rugby is a game of collisions with the team winning most of the collisions the winner of the game. I quote "the forwards decide the winner while the backs decide by how much".
We have become used to Japan's heroics in this World Cup, but it is worth remembering that before RWC 2015 they had only beaten Zimbabwe. Japan is a great tier 2 rugby nation that developed their game unbelievable in the preparation to the hosting the 2019 World Rugby Championship.
Unfortunately, after the hype of the World Cup dies down, I can not see the will to become a world force last for much longer. The costs of the exercise will not be worth the result in the long term.