WARWICK, ENGLAND – Japan heads into Saturday’s do-or-die clash with Samoa a lot more refreshed than at this time last week.
A week in the Warwickshire countryside has allowed tired bodies to heal and minds to refresh following the Brave Blossoms’ roller-coaster start to the Rugby World Cup — which saw them play South Africa and Scotland in the space of four days — and Eddie Jones’ team is ready to prove its win over the Springboks was no fluke.
“I feel good,” veteran lock Hitoshi Ono said Wednesday. “We know the drill so when we are off we switch off, but come training and the games we know how to switch on.”
Many members of the squad are experiencing their first World Cup, but there are still plenty of wise old heads around to offer advice as the tournament hits the crunch stage.
“We need to get stronger in the second half of the pool stages,” said forwards coach and former England captain Steve Borthwick.
“I think back to the World Cup in 2007 when I was with the England team, we won one and lost one. But from that point on, England got stronger, stronger and stronger and almost won the tournament. For us, we’ve had the opportunity to refresh and we’ll have a proper training week heading into this game. So that when we play Samoa we’ll be in the best shape we can possibly be in.”
It was a view shared by Luke Thompson, who along with Ono, is the only Japan player appearing in a third World Cup.
“There’s probably a bit more belief now. The last two (World Cups) started with a loss so it changes everything,” he said.
“We’ve had a win and a loss, but we still have a chance of the quarterfinals. We’ve always been a team with great potential but we’ve never played to that potential. We played to our potential in the South Africa game and got a good result and we need to do that twice more.”
Japan’s hopes have been lifted by the news that Amanaki Lelei Mafi and Craig Wing are both on the road to recovery.
“I’ve been getting a massage two, three times a day. I’m close to perfect, almost 100 percent,” said Mafi, who was forced to leave the Scotland game on a stretcher.
The big No. 8 dislocated his hip back in December, but Jones said last week’s injury was just muscular and Mafi should play a role on Saturday.
Wing missed the first two games with a long-standing calf injury, but he has still been heavily involved in training, calling on all his experience as a rugby league international to run drills to counter the Samoan physicality.
“Everyone knows Samoa are big and strong and are going to try to hit us hard but that doesn’t mean we can’t hit them back. I’ve given a few pointers and the mindset on that,” he said.
Jones names his team for Saturday’s clash in Milton Keynes on Thursday and told Kyodo News he expects it to be very similar to the side that started the historic win against the Springboks.
“In Week 3 of the tournament teams either grow or shrink. We need to step up to the challenge,” he said.