GLOUCESTER, ENGLAND – Two-time Olympic pole vault champion Bob Richards of the United States once said “Ingenuity, plus courage, plus work, equals miracles.”
Never was that more evident than when Japan beat South Africa on the opening weekend of Rugby World Cup 2015, and the big question now is can the Brave Blossoms produce a similar performance when they take on Scotland at Kingsholm on Wednesday?
While there is no shortage of confidence in the Japan camp, it faces a team champing at the bit to get involved in the tournament having had the opening weekend off.
The format of the competition, that sees the 20 teams divided into four groups of five, means not only does one team get a bye while the other four play but some teams are forced to have very short turnarounds, and Japan comes into the game on just three day’s rest.
Not that it fazes the Brave Blossoms.
“We have practiced a few times over the last few years a short turnaround so we are accustomed to it,” head coach Eddie Jones said Tuesday following Japan’s captain’s run at the stadium. “Of course there are some knocks and bruises after playing the Springboks . . . but physically (the players) are ready to go.”
His charges agree, having said all along that all the physical work was done at the intense pre-tournament training camp in Miyazaki on the southern island of Kyushu. But questions have to be asked just how much the win over the Springboks took out of them mentally.
“It’s particularly hard after a big game to come down, but the players ran the meeting today and it was concise and focused and showed they are in a good mental condition,” Jones said to a packed media room.
The impact of Japan’s victory over South Africa was evident earlier in the day when a number of former Scotland players vented their anger at the number of questions Scotland assistant coach Matt Taylor was asked about Japan.
Rather than concentrating on how the Scots would approach the game, it seemed all everyone wanted to know about was the Brave Blossoms.
“We were lucky enough to be at the game and saw Japan play exceptionally well,” Taylor said. “We’ve been watching Japan for a long time and we always knew they were an exceptional side. They have good players across the board, and they are well coached, well conditioned and that was a great result for them.
“It’s a massive match for us but we have prepared very well and are at our peak in terms of fitness.”
Jones, however, said Japan was “definitely fitter than Scotland,” and that he was looking for his team to “run (the Scots) off their feet.”
Kenki Fukuoka’s inclusion on the wing means Japan has genuine pace on the flank, while Amanaki Lelei Mafi will be looking to add to his growing fan club, having put in a stellar appearance off the bench against the Springboks.
With the neutrals in the crowd expected to support Japan — Gloucester Rugby are known as the Cherry and Whites — Jones and his team are hoping to prove last Saturday’s win was no one-off.
“People still think it was a fluke,” Jones said of what has been described as one of the biggest sporting upsets of all time.
“Tomorrow is a great chance for us to show it was not. It’s a chance for us to show up and front up and show we are a serious rugby nation.”
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