DURBAN – Don’t believe Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus when he says Japan would be as difficult a prospect as Ireland in the World Cup quarter-finals. The Boks would take the option of Japan every day of the week.
Ireland, despite their indifferent World Cup performances, still have enough quality in their line-up to produce the kind of 80 minutes that could knock out either of South Africa or New Zealand. They have enjoyed success against both teams in recent years and the belief of a win would have as much conviction within the squad, as it would have hope from Irish supporters.
A Bok quarter-final against Ireland offers no guarantee; one against Japan offers every guarantee that the Boks would win, and win well.
The Boks trounced the Brave Blossoms 41-7 in Japan a fortnight before the start of the World Cup and if the two teams did meet in the last eight, I’d expect a similar score differential.
Japan are playing on adrenaline and incredible hometown support, but the Brave Blossoms just don’t have the quality or depth in a matchday squad to go beyond a quarter-final.
Frankly, as unpopular as the view is, I don’t see them getting to the last eight. The last quarter-finalist will be determined with the final Pool match when Japan face Scotland. It is a tournament organiser’s dream and all of Japan will be in sync for the match to provide a World Cup miracle.
Japan have never qualified for the knockout round and they were unfortunate in 2015 not to make it to the last eight, despite winning three of their four matches and beating the Boks. Back then they came unstuck against the Scots and it will be history repeating itself on Sunday.
Scotland were inept in losing 27-3 to Ireland in their first match of the tournament, but subsequently there has been a change in attitude and certainly a change in fortunes. Scotland coach Gregor Townsend selected a team that kept Samoa scoreless and scored 34 points. He then made 14 changes for yesterday’s 61-0 win against Russia.
Scotland, seemingly out of it after their defeat to Ireland and Ireland’s to Japan are right back in it. They have two bonus-point wins and a healthier points difference than Japan. The equation is simple for Scotland: They have to beat Japan and ensure that the host nation don’t get a four-try bonus point or losing bonus point.
History favours Scotland. In seven matches, Scotland have never lost against Japan and the average score is 44-12. It won’t be as lopsided on Sunday, but it will be big enough to ensure it’s the green of South Africa versus the green of Ireland come the quarter-finals.
The USA’s terrible World Cup is mercifully over after a whipping to Argentina, while Fiji also said goodbye in a match against Wales that again had everyone asking “what if” when it comes to greater investment in Pacific Island rugby.
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