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Rugby World Cup quarter-final: Japan vs. South Africa preview, predictions, team news, starting XVs, UK time, TV

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Can the Brave Blossoms

Can the Brave Blossoms produce another miracle against the Springboks?

Friday, October 18, 2019 - 9:43am

Japan vs. South Africa 

  • What: Rugby World Cup quarter-final  
  • When: Sunday 20 October  
  • Where: Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo  
  • UK start time: 11.15am  
  • TV coverage: live on ITV

A film has been made about the last time South Africa and Japan met at the Rugby World Cup. 

See related 
Rugby World Cup predictions: quarter-finals, tournament winners, betting odds Rugby World Cup: commentary mayhem as Japan beat South Africa

The Brighton Miracle tells the story of that incredible day in 2015 when the two-time world champions were stunned by the Brave Blossoms in rugby union’s biggest ever upset.

Four years later, can it happen again when they clash in the quarter-final on Sunday at the Tokyo Stadium? 

Given the way that the Japanese beat Ireland and Scotland in the pool stage, playing with pace and precision and relentless energy, the answer is “yes”, but only a fool would write off the South Africans. 

Forewarned is forearmed and all that. Plus, the Springboks are out for revenge.

“We know that it’s happened, it’s four years later, it’s a new opportunity for us,” said Springbok winger Cheslin Kolbe. “We’ll make sure we’re really well prepared and just implement what the coaches want from us and not have what happened in 2015 at the back of our heads.”

The Brighton Miracle - English Trailer from The Brighton Miracle on Vimeo.
Pocket rocket

Kolbe has been one of the stars of South African rugby this year, reproducing the form for his country that he has for his club, Toulouse, in France’s Top 14 championship. 

In a country where big is usually considered better, the 5ft 8in and 13-stone Kolbe is sinewy speed and grace, not too dissimilar from the Japanese wingers, Kotaro Matsushima and Kenki Fukuoka, who between them have scored nine of their team’s 13 tries in the World Cup.

“Dynamite comes in small packages!” laughed Kolbe, when asked about the Japanese wingmen. “We all have something special we can contribute to our various teams.”

Fast and fun

Kolbe came up against Fukuoka - a player he describes as “really powerful and explosive” - when South Africa beat Japan in the bronze medal match in the 2016 Rio Olympics rugby sevens, and the pair are similar not just in terms of pace but the pleasure they take in their rugby. 

“I enjoy running with the ball in hand and whenever I do get opportunities, I’ll make sure I keep on having fun,” said Kolbe.

Boks too big?

But for all the attacking potency provided by Kolbe, it’s up front where South Africa will look to crush the life out of Japan. 

The hosts will have to be at their top of their game just to achieve parity in the line-out and scrum, and the Springboks will launch their massive ball-carriers at the heart of the Japanese to suck in defenders before creating the space for Kolbe out wide. 

Also expect the South Africans to put boot to ball a lot; the Japanese wingers are electric but what are they like fielding a high ball with several South Africans steaming after them? 

Pace versus power

The intentions of South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus are evident in the fact he’s named six forwards on the bench, including two second-rows. 

“If you’ve watched the way we’ve played through the World Cup, you will see the way we are going to play,” said South Africa assistant coach Matthew Proudfoot. 

Asked if it’s going to be a one-dimensional approach, Proudfoot promised an “exciting Test match”, which if you’re a South African probably means suffocating the Japanese at the set-piece.

All fired up

Japan’s only change to the team that beat Scotland last weekend is the return at full-back of Ryohei Yamanaka in place of William Tupou. 

“We’ve achieved the last eight but what we do from here is also important,” said No.8 Kazuki Himeno. He added that the Brave Blossoms are “all fired up for the South Africa game”.

For analysis of the biggest sport stories - and a concise, refreshing and balanced take on the week’s news - try The Week magazine. Get your first six issues for £6

How to watch on TV in the UK 

The fourth and final quarter-final tie of the weekend will be shown live on ITV. Coverage of Sunday’s clash in Tokyo begins at 10.45am (UK time) and the match starts at 11.15am. Wales play France in the first quarter-final on Sunday.

Saturday’s quarter-finals are England vs. Australia in Oita (8.15am) and New Zealand vs. Ireland in Tokyo (11.15am).

RWC predictions: quarter-finals, tournament winners, betting odds

Confirmed teams

South Africa starting XV
  • 15. Willie le Roux, 14. Cheslin Kolbe, 13. Lukhanyo Am, 12. Damian de Allende, 11. Makazole Mapimpi, 10. Handré Pollard, 9. Faf de Klerk; 8. Duane Vermeulen, 7. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6. Siya Kolisi (captain), 5. Lood de Jahger, 4. Eben Etzebeth, 3. Frans Malherbe, 2. Bongi Mbonambi, 1. Tendai Mtawarira 
  • Replacements: 16. Malcolm Marx, 17. Steven Kitshoff, 18. Vincent Koch, 19. RG Snyman, 20. Franco Mostert, 21. Francois Louw, 22. Herschel Jantjies, 23. Frans Steyn. 
Japan starting XV
  • 15. Ryohei Yamanaka, 14. Kotaro Matsushima, 13. Timothy Lafaele, 12. Ryoto Nakamura, 11. Kenki Fukuoka, 10. Yu Tamura, 9. Yutaka Nagare; 8. Kazuki Himeno, 7. Pieter Labuschagne, 6. Michael Leitch (captain), 5. James Moore, 4. Luke Thompson, 3. Jiwon Koo, 2. Shota Horie, 1. Keita Inagaki  
  • Replacements: 16. Atsushi Sakate, 17. Isileli Nakajima, 18. Asaeli Ai Valu, 19. Wimpie van der Walt, 20. Amanaki Lelei Mafi, 21. Fumiaki Tanaka, 22. Rikiya Matsuda, 23. Lomano Lava Lemeki

Pundit predictions

ESPN: South Africa by nine points

“Japan stunned, literally shocked, South Africa 34-32 in the 2015 World Cup, and they’ll be looking to do more of the same this time around. The hosts have already topped pool A against the odds after upsetting Ireland 19-12 earlier in the tournament. If anyone doubted the ability of this Japan side, their commanding performance against Scotland was enough to make people take notice. South Africa are the better side and should run out comfortable winners and will arrive as favourites - but maybe that’s where Japan are at their most dangerous.”

Gareth Jones, Sporting Life: South Africa to win

“South Africa’s power was too much for Japan in their World Cup warm-up match in September, as the Brave Blossoms were brushed aside 41-7, and this should be an indication of how this match should go.”

Liam Hyslop, Stuff.co.nz: South Africa by ten points

“This will be Japan’s first Rugby World Cup quarter-final, so you have to back South Africa with all their big-game experience. Japan should be kept in it for a long way by their strong home support, but I would expect the Springboks to ease out to a ten-point win by full-time.”

The Daily Telegraph: Japan 17 South Africa 37

“Japan outclassed Scotland in the most entertaining game of the competition so far to reach the last eight, but that’s because the Scots play a similar, high-tempo game to the Japanese; it’s just that the Brave Blossoms did it better. South Africa, on the other hand, will look to use their superior size to bludgeon their hosts into submission and will not give Japan the same amount of space to play in that Scotland did. Prediction: Japan 17 South Africa 37.”

Malik Ouzia, London Evening Standard: Japan 21 South Africa 37 

“What a thrill it would be if the hosts could keep this incredible story rolling. The Springboks should prove one step too far, though.”

Ash Wheldon, The Stats Zone

“Japan have been the story of this RWC and the hosts will hope their journey can continue but they face a mammoth task against South Africa. The Springboks have ran in scores for fun but this will be a tougher test for them and although they should progress, Japan are capable of an upset. They have a nation behind them and have shown that they are no pushovers but if they are to achieve the unthinkable, they will have to defend as well as they did against Ireland and some.” 

For analysis of the biggest sport stories - and a concise, refreshing and balanced take on the week’s news - try The Week magazine. Get your first six issues for £6

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