Japan’s dream World Cup run has come to an end tonight in Tokyo, beaten 26-3 by a physical Springbok side. It means Jamie Joseph’s side are now out of the tournament and the Boks now move on to face Wales in next weekend’s semi final.
The Boks made the perfect start, taking advantage of a bit of naive play by the Japanese early. They tried to spread it wide in their own 22 but lost the ball forward. Ffrom the resulting scrum the Springboks got a huge shove to set up some width of their own. Winger Makazole Mapimpi took the pass from Faf de Klerk and bumped his way out of a woeful attempted tackle by Yu Tamura to go over in the corner. Handre Pollard just slid the conversion to the right but it seemed that the Boks were on course to settle in for a period of dominance.
Except the Japanese had other ideas. For the next half an hour they hung onto the ball for dear life and frustrated the South Africans. It led to Bok prop Tendai Mtawarira getting himself yellow carded for a tip tackle on halfway. The replays suggested that the veteran was lucky not to get a red, and the Japanese cashed in on the one man advantage to score a penalty through Tamura’s boot.
This fired up the 50,000-strong crowd, who were mostly decked out in red and white striped jerseys.
While the pre-match predictions were that the Boks would simply try and blast the Japanese off the park with sheer physicality, the reality was that the South Africans were struggling to keep up with the pace of the home side. They were lucky not to score after a sustained period of attack, with winger Kotaro Matsushima going close.
However, the Boks hung in to take a 5-3 lead at the break and were unlucky to have a try of their own rubbed out by the TMO for a double movement as time expired on the clock.
Whatever Rassie Erasmus told his troops at the break had the desired effect, though, The South Africans came out with a refreshed commitment to brutality in the second half, keeping the ball in tight and forcing the Japanese to mix it with them in drives and around the ruck.
Pollard added three more penalties as the Boks slowly began to strangle the life out of the home side. Then, the killer blow came in the 65th minute when a strong surge from a line out freed up space for replacement hooker Malcolm Marx to pop a pass for de Klerk to score next to the posts. Pollard’s conversion made it a three score game for the Japanese and with only 15 minutes left, it was going to be a mountain to climb.
There simply wasn’t enough firepower to pull of the heroics of earlier in the tournament, and chancing their arm cost them another try five minutes later. A dropped pass gave space for Pollard to bust through, and he found Mapimpi out on the wing to gun in for his second.
While it’s a sad end for the Japanese, the teams has achieved more than anyone could have hoped for in the tournament. The vibrancy of their fans have been the bright spot so far, however the business end of the World Cup will now continue without them. On current form we may well be seeing a repeat of the All Blacks’ opening match in the final - against the old enemy South Africa.
Springboks 26 (M Mapimpi 2, F de Klerk tries; H Pollard 3 pen, con)
Japan 3 (Y Tamura pen)
HT: 5-3 Springboks