Japan v South Africa: Brave Blossoms can push Springboks close

Japan wing Kenki Fukuoka
Japan overwhelmed Scotland to seal their first World Cup quarter-final

Simon Mail previews the final World Cup quarter-final and thinks outstanding hosts Japan can cause South Africa major problems...

"Japan must be taken seriously as a force after their world class performances against Ireland and Scotland. The hosts are deemed 15-point outsiders against South Africa and this looks extremely generous."

Japan v South Africa
Sunday, 11:15
Live on ITV

History-makers Japan ready for another huge upset

Japan have provided the outstanding story of this World Cup with the brilliant hosts making history in reaching their first quarter-final. Jamie Joseph's team have been exceptional during the tournament, winning their pool and setting up a crack against South Africa - four years after their monumental upset against the Springboks in the pool stage.

The Brave Blossoms have produced an exhilarating brand of rugby with their high-tempo attacking game bewildering opponents. Japan stunned Ireland in the second match but this was no fluke and the side raised their level again in last weekend's 28-21 victory in Yokohama which eliminated Scotland from the tournament.

Joseph has only changed one player from the win against Scotland with Ryohei Yamanaka replacing William Tupou at full-back. Japan's electrifying backline is led by Kotaro Matsushima, with the wing joint top tryscorer on five tries for the tournament, alongside the rapid Kenki Fukuoka. Joseph has promised to surprise South Africa and he has no shortage of individual match winners in his side.

South Africa focused on out-muscling opponents

South Africa were one of the most well-fancied teams coming into the World Cup and the two-time winners are still viewed as strong contenders despite starting with a defeat. The Springboks were handed the toughest possible opener against defending champions New Zealand and first-half mistakes cost them in the 23-13 loss as they finished pool runners-up.

Rassie Erasmus' side are built on their physical strength and a direct gameplan but South Africa still have plenty of flair players in the backline. Cheslin Kolbe is an immense talent with the wing's phenomenal pace and footwork providing a cutting edge. Makazole Mapimpi is another prolific finisher on the other wing which will test Japan's defence.

South Africa opted to announce their team a day ahead of schedule and hooker Malcolm Marx has been left out with Mbongeni Mbonambi preferred. Erasmus has admitted he will probably use Marx for most of the second half and their strength in depth could be decisive in this match. Handre Pollard plays at fly-half with Damian de Allende selected at inside centre.

cheslin kolbe.jpg

There have been only two previous meetings between the teams with Japan famously beating South Africa at the last World Cup. Eddie Jones masterminded a sensational 34-32 victory in Brighton in arguably the biggest upset in the competition's history. But the teams faced each other last month in a warm-up game and South Africa ran out 41-7 winners.

This scoreline should not be a significant factor and it flattered the Springboks in a clinical performance. Japan must be taken seriously as a force after their world class performances against Ireland and Scotland. The hosts are deemed 15-point outsiders and this looks extremely generous. South Africa's physical muscle could ultimately tip this in their favour, but they will have to overcome a fearsome attack and the overwhelming home support, in a contest which is likely to be much closer than the odds suggest.

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