Japan's head coach Jamie Joseph embraces Pieter Labuschagne following victory in the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Japan and Scotland in Yokohama, Japan, October 13 2019. Picture: CAMERON SPENCER/GETTY IMAGES
Japan's head coach Jamie Joseph embraces Pieter Labuschagne following victory in the Rugby World Cup 2019 Group A game between Japan and Scotland in Yokohama, Japan, October 13 2019. Picture: CAMERON SPENCER/GETTY IMAGES

Yokohama — There were times in this Colosseum of thunderous roars at the International Stadium that hosts Japan played like a force of nature.

Jamie Joseph’s team on Sunday invoked the spirit of a nation unbowed by the devilish destruction left in the wake of typhoon Hagibis to cement their place in the quarterfinals of the Rugby World Cup.

Their win meant they top pool A and now have a date with Rassie Erasmus’s Springboks in Tokyo on Sunday. It also means Ireland‚ who finished runners-up in the pool‚ will play New Zealand. It will pit two teams recently ranked No 1 in the world against each other. Who said the World Cup is fair?

Capable adversaries

In fact‚ if this match was never played‚ the spectre under which the bulk of the build-up occurred‚ it would have robbed the world of sport of a glorious spectacle. Japan again showed they are not just willing‚ but capable adversaries.

The Springboks had their measure in a World Cup warm-up match‚ winning 41-7 in Saitama two weeks before the start of the tournament. But the beast they are likely to run into in the nation’s capital is different.

It can be argued that coach Joseph kept his powder dry on that occasion but in Sunday’s clash that will not be the case.

Scotland were at times swept aside by a team that came at them powerfully. But it is to their credit that they came back to return the game to the realm of contest in the final quarter.

It will be those moments Erasmus and his coaching team will pore over in the coming days.

Earlier on in Sunday’s clash Japan’s passing game was utterly mesmeric. They ran on to the ball at speed‚ offloading before firm contact was made, thus cleverly and deftly shifting the point of attack.

They also ran intuitive support lines lending momentum and energy to their attack. At that point it looked as if the Scots were chasing shadows.

Wings Keita Inagaki and Kenki Fukuoka proved influential again but at the heart of the battle hooker Shota Hori and inspirational captain Michael Leitch toiled long and hard.

Japan were able to foist upon Scotland a game of speed and precision but they were equally game in the tackle.

Much underappreciated is Japan’s defence. There too they reaped the rewards for collective endeavour, often gang tackling more hulking ball carriers into retreat.

In the second half when the hosts started to tire‚ Scotland were able to isolate individual defenders and made headway. Erasmus would have taken note.

Scotland‚ staring down the barrel at 28-7‚ rallied as the hosts lost some of their intensity.

A strong charge close to the line by SA-born tighthead WP Nel edged them closer and when Finn Russell threw the ball in himself before setting off on a typically deceptive run that led to a try for Zander Fagerson‚ the cat was among the pigeons.

Japan‚ however‚ is a place where resolve and stoicism flows freely. They kept the now homebound Scotland at bay. Whether they can weather a Springbok storm will be revealed in a week’s time.