"We are playing for our country and we want to try and win the World Cup so for the next week, unfortunately, Japan is the enemy.”
Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus yesterday spoke of his team’s love for Japan and their people, and then, rather begrudgingly, had to label them the enemy – but only for one week.
The Boks and surprise package and hosts, Japan, meet in the fourth quarter-final at this year’s World Cup in Japan in Tokyo on Sunday.
Erasmus’ team qualified for the last eight as the runners-up from Pool B while Japan won Pool A, ahead of Ireland and Scotland, the latter who miss out on the quarter-finals following their sensational loss to the hosts on Sunday.
“We love the country, we love the people, but we have to try and beat them,” said Erasmus yesterday when the team arrived in Tokyo from Kobe where they had spent the weekend. “It’s really tough to not like the Japanese people,” continued Erasmus. “The way they have embraced all the teams, on and off the field, is something special which I have never experienced in my life.
“But, we are playing for our country and we want to try and win the World Cup so for the next week, unfortunately, Japan is the enemy.”
Erasmus said he wasn’t surprised Jamie Joseph’s side had managed to qualify for their first quarter-final and had improved since the Boks won a pre-World Cup warm-up game 41-7 in Kumagaya six weeks ago.
“There was no pressure that day and the way Japan have embraced the pressure (in the tournament) is impressive,” said Erasmus.
“The pressure on Sunday will be massive for both teams and it will be interesting to see how both teams handle the expectation.
“Japan’s success isn’t a surprise to us they have improved as they’ve gone along, as have we, which will make for a great contest on Sunday.
“We’re going to have to play really well to beat them because they are ranked six or seven in the world and they deserve it. It’s going to be a really, really tough match.”
Erasmus confirmed key backs Herschel Jantjies and Cheslin Kolbe were 99 percent ready to play following their sitting out last week’s activities because of injury.
“Internally our team has already been announced and they will both be in the team,” said Erasmus.
“We will have our first full training session Tuesday (today) and we expect Herschel and Cheslin to come through the session so I would say they are 99 percent ready.”
Meanwhile, Japan captain Michael Leitch said he and his team were ready to make more history by beating the Boks for the second time in a World Cup – after Brighton four years ago – and qualifying for the semi-finals.
“We’ve now made history but what’s ahead of us is important,” said Leitch yesterday. “This is not the goal. Winning the next game is the goal win the next, then the next. What’s important is winning the game in front of us. “We want to make even more history for Japan.”
He said the heavy defeat to the Boks in the warm-up game had been something of a blessing. “Last time we played the Boks it was a huge step up after the Pacific Nations Cup (which Japan won),” he said.
“But there were lots of things we learned when we concentrate too much we couldn’t see the space around us. There were lots of spaces and chances but we made mistakes at important moments.”