Springbok assistant coach likens Japan to All Blacks and Los Pumas
Mzwandile Stick says Boks will have to play the Brave Blossoms and a patriotic crowd
Tokyo — Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick believes Japan’s skillful‚ high-speed game bears the hallmarks of the All Blacks and Los Pumas. Especially the wings, Kenki Fukuoka and Kotaro Matsushima, tend to bring things to a quick resolution.
“Their coach Jamie Joseph referred to them as Ferraris‚” Stick said at the team’s hotel in Tokyo’s high-rise district.
“If you look at the background of their coaching staff, Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown are both from New Zealand. We know their coaching philosophy is ball in hand. Japan also reminds me of Argentina, who have more time with ball in hand. They are very skillful‚” said Stick.
That he would mention those two countries is no coincidence. After stepping away from the All Blacks job, Rugby World Cup-winning coach Sir Graham Henry was seconded to Argentina to help knock them into shape for their spot in the Rugby Championship.
He advised them to drift from their game, which at the time was heavily reliant on the boot and forward dominance‚ to a game in which they scored more tries. They warmed to the new challenge.
The talk so far this week has revolved around how the Springboks will contain Japan’s high-energy game.
“You saw the speed and the tempo of how they played the game‚ especially against Scotland, which was a proper performance‚” said Stick. “We are training very hard to keep up with that high tempo game. We have to compliment them and say they are a very skillful side.”
The question is whether the Boks have the staying power to go toe-to-toe with the fleet-footed Japanese‚ while deploying strategies that will allow them to inflict body blows on the hosts.
It was noticeable how Japan lost some of their zing and zest in the second half against Scotland and the Boks will hope to have absorbed the hosts’ earlier frenzy on Sunday.
Part of the Boks offensive strategy this week will almost certainly revolve around going to the air and contesting the high ball. That can be risky especially when the ball bounces Japan’s way. Execution and a good chase line will be vital to the Boks reaping benefit from high-ball deployment.
It is a topic that left Stick a little uncomfortable.
“As a coaching staff we still have to finalise how you are going to play them‚” he said. “They are well coached. I’m sure they will manage their game whether we keep the ball in hand or whether we want to kick.”
He was not going to reveal any Bok secrets but acknowledged the Boks will have to rise to the challenge of not just playing the Brave Blossoms but also blocking out the patriotic fervour the Japanese will unleash in the build-up to Sunday’s clash.
“The whole country is excited and behind them‚” he said. “Playing against the host nation we know they are going to be playing with a lot of passion. The supporters are going to be behind them and we’ve already noticed the vibe at the stadium.
“We know they are going to be passionate and they have pride in their team. But their supporters have also been good to us. The hospitality has been great.
“Kwagga Smith has his own supporters club. His face was on the jersey of these supporters.”