AFP-JIJI – South Africa will have to shelve its affection for Japan and Japanese fans to spoil the hosts’ party in the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals, according to Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus.
The Springboks have been firm crowd favorites at the World Cup, with many Japanese fans donning replica jerseys to cheer on the South Africans — when they are not playing Japan, that is.
But now, as South Africa stands in the way of Japan and what could be a truly remarkable semifinal on home turf, Erasmus said the Springboks will have to overcome their emotions to prevail.
“It’s really tough not to like Japanese people,” said the charismatic coach with a smile on Thursday.
“The way they’ve accepted all teams — not just South African teams — in terms of adopting you, wherever we’ve stayed, putting on South African jerseys and making you feel at home is something special which I’ve never experienced in my life before,” he said.
Erasmus also paid tribute to the “strength” shown by the hosts to stage their final pool match against Scotland — and win — just 24 hours after Typhoon Hagibis wrecked infrastructure and killed scores of people.
But he pointed out that the Springboks also have their own reasons to put in a passionate performance in Sunday’s quarterfinals.
“We are a very proud nation and we are a country with a lot of challenges and we want to represent our country with pride. We are playing also for a lot of things,” said the coach.
South Africa is a country where “things don’t always run fluidly,” noted Erasmus.
“We know when we play, we represent much more than just those 23 playing on the field.”
Scrum half Faf de Klerk said the team was looking forward to what he expected to be an “amazing” atmosphere at Tokyo Stadium on Sunday, but stressed that the Springboks would put that out of their minds on the pitch.
“Obviously we have got a lot of respect for Japanese people but I think once you step on that field, it’s every team for itself,” said de Klerk.
“It’s just rugby and it’s going to be physical.”
Erasmus said he was preparing his team for a “passionate” reception on Sunday but did not expect fans to be hostile — which he respected.
“I have complimented them a lot this week for no other reason but to be sincere,” said Erasmus.
“While saying that, we’re playing for our country and we want to try to win the World Cup. For the next week, unfortunately Japan is the enemy for one week.
“We love the country, we love the people but we have to try to beat them.”
Biggar back for Wales
Wales fly half Dan Biggar was passed fit and picked to play the quarterfinal against France on Friday after recovering from his second head injury at the Rugby World Cup.
Center Jonathan Davies was also named to Wales’ team after shaking off a knee problem suffered in the pool win against Fiji nine days ago.
Wales said Biggar has completed the return to play protocols required of players after suffering head knocks during the Pool D matches against both Australia and Fiji.
He was left on the ground after a nasty collision with teammate Liam Williams in Oita last week but the Welsh Rugby Union stressed he had remained symptom-free since the Fiji game and was cleared to play by an independent concussion consultant.
“Dan has remained symptom-free since the game and has completed the graduated return to play with no issues,” a WRU statement said. “We are pleased to say that given that all return to play protocols have been met, imaging being normal and ratification from the independent concussion consultant, that Dan has been deemed fit to play.”
Elsewhere in the backs, powerhouse wing George North has overcome an ankle injury, with coach Warren Gatland naming the same starting side that defeated fellow quarterfinalist Australia 29-25 in pool play last month.
Wales is again led by veteran lock Alun Wyn Jones, with Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric and Josh Navidi forming the back row. Ross Moriarty is on the bench, with Adam Beard providing cover at lock instead of Aaron Shingler.
Wales has beaten France seven times in their past eight meetings, but the French defeated the Welsh in a 2011 World Cup semifinal.