'Brave' new world as Japanese rugby blossoms

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It's a match Japan has never witnessed before.

Jamie Joseph has made just one change heading into Japan's first appearance in a Rugby World Cup quarter-final, as Ryohei Yamanaka returns to the fold.

Long queues for replica shirts and endless repeats of Japan's wins on TV are testament to the growing excitement around the team. That's the pre-tournament objective seized.

As the Boks plot to spoil the party for their hosts, we reflect on how Japan pulled off a monumental shock at the last World Cup in England, as well as looking at the prospects of lightning striking twice. Little attention has been paid to the remarkable turnaround since Rassie Erasmus took charge of South Africa previous year. South Africa couldn't keep the error count down in their World Cup opener though but had no problems in easing their way through to the knockout stage.

South Africa, Scotland and the Brave Blossoms all won three and lost one of their four games, but it was Japan who missed out.

"Both teams had different things in mind".

As logical as that sounds, the Boks are actually one of the better-conditioned teams in the competition, a side which scored two tries in the last 10 minutes in the stifling heat and humidity of the warm-up game they played against Japan with a man in the sin-bin.

"Japan are playing some really exciting rugby".

As Brown said, "It's a one-off quarterfinal".

"We love the country, we love the people but we have to try to beat them".

"It's the same in New Zealand".

Entertaining rugby has been Japan's signature in this tournament, with the ball regularly spread wide to the speedy wings.

"Obviously we have got a lot of respect for Japanese people but I think once you step on that field, it's every team for itself", said de Klerk. "A messy game is what they're good at".

"It will probably be something where we will have to match their pace and speed, and try to keep up with the way they play the game".

As well as Leitch, the Japan squad for Sunday contains seven other players involved in that massive upset four years ago.

Captain Michael Leitch, winger Kotaro Matsushima, hooker Shota Horie and lock Luke Thompson started in the 2015 win over South Africa and are back in the XV again.

Cool as a cucumber, Tamura leads the World Cup with 48 points so far and has landed 10 penalties - also a tournament high - despite not always understanding the instructions English-speaking team-mates are barking at him.

Nagare, a crafty scrumhalf on the smaller side, knows he can expect a lot of attention from the big Boks. Even when it came down to their crucial battle with Scotland, in a match which looked as if could have fallen foul of Typhoon Hagibis, the Brave Blossom didn't let their concentration wane and they collected the victory.

"We know as players what needs to be done".

Should key backline players like Handré Pollard get injured early in the match, there won't be enough backup from the bench, and the chances they hope to get from suffocating the hosts with their forwards and defence may go abegging. As well as the nearly 50,000 at Tokyo Stadium, the domestic broadcast audience is expected to exceed 50 million again and bars and official fan zones around the country will be packed with supporters wearing red-and-white hooped jerseys and headscarves with hissho, or must win, printed on the front.

"The best memory? I'm just trying to think. this Sunday?" "That stuck with us until that game when we got here (in September)".

"Each of us are playing to have more of that opportunity".

"We sent the message to the world that Japan has the quality to break into Tier 1 (with the top nations)", Himeno said.

A style of rugby which South Africa assistant coach Mzwandile Stick said was similar to the French rugby of the 1970s. This is our team.

"We want to make everyone in Japan proud, everyone in this camp, this group, we've worked really hard to reach the goal we set up for ourselves". We kept hanging in there.



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