David triumphs over Goliath
David and Goliath battle? Yes. It certainly was from the outset. To borrow an old line from the late great darts commentator Sid Waddell, they were not just underdogs they were under puppies.
Just look at the numbers
South Africa boasted a record 880 Test caps compared with Japan’s 574. They also entered the game with 25 wins from their previous 29 Rugby World Cup matches for a win percentage of 86.2%. This is the highest winning percentage of all 20 teams involved in this year’s tournament. In contrast, Japan had won just one World Cup game in 24 years – against Zimbabwe.
So how did Japan manage to go toe-to-toe with such a foe and claim a 34-32 victory and cause the biggest shock in World Cup history?
Well, everybody has a theory. Fortunately, Japan coach Eddie Jones is part of The Rugby Site and we have a good insight into some of his methods.
Let’s explore his post game comments
“We haven’t got the biggest scrum in the world but technically we’re pretty good and the new laws suit us because we have hookers who can hook," Jones told the media following his side’s headline-grabbing win. “I don’t see how you can win the ball if you’re putting it in straight and you don’t push early. It’s impossible.”
Boom. There it is. Who said you need the biggest strongest guys out there? If you have a small scrum, open The Rugby Site video library and watch Mike Cron, Martin Castrogiovanni and especially Kees Meeuws on the new engagement rules. Do it now.
Jones started preparing for South Africa two years ago. When are you going to start?
Then there was Japan’s ability to compete at the lineout against their bigger rivals – the tallest player in Japan’s side was 6ft 4in – the average height of South Africa’s pack.
Taking about his forward coach coach Steve Borthwick, Jones said: “When he was a player he never had his head out of the computer, and as a coach he never has it out, as such he knows lineouts better than anyone else I know. He can pick a weakness, an opportunity, and it’s just about drilling the players. He’s done that superbly."
There is another lesson there. Open your computer. Go to The Rugby Site video library. Watch the best. Get better. Beat the best!
Then there was Japan’s decision to roll the dice with a late penalty that could have brought them level had the kick been successful.
That would have been a worthy result, right?
Not to Michael Leitch.
“Just before the end I was screaming, ‘Take the three! Take the three!” recalled Jones. “I had coffee with Leitchy the morning of the game and I said: ‘Look, mate, we’ve got nothing to lose. If you think we should have a go, have a go.’ And he did. That’s the great thing of youth.”
If you want to understand the mindset of a champion The Rugby Site library has a whole section on the topic with World Cup winners Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Wayne Smith sharing their insights and experiences on the subject. Check it out. See how it plays out for them this time round.
Japan turned their major weakness, size, into their biggest asset with superb technique at the breakdown.
The body position adopted by the Japanese players, especially the front row, was excellent, low and balanced, allowing them to contest the ball and stay on their feet. They put real pressure on the South Africans and wore them down with their speed.
What techniques did Jones get his smaller men to adopt to compete with their big rivals at the breakdown? Don’t listen to the uninformed – you’ve got to hear and see for yourself!
Jones has a whole series on the break down using Japanese players in The Rugby Site library. You know it works. He’s proved that!
From everyone hear at The Rugby Site, well done Eddie and the entire Japan team. What a game!