Michael Leitch declared “the end is not here” as Japan plot another sensational defeat of South Africa in their first Rugby World Cup quarter-final on Sunday.
The hosts reached the last eight for the first time with a 28-21 victory over Scotland in a decisive match in Yokohama last weekend.
Japan avoided New Zealand by topping Pool A but face a huge test against the Springboks at Tokyo Stadium.
The Brave Blossoms pulled off one of the great sporting upsets by beating the two-time champions in Brighton at the last World Cup four years ago and captain Leitch says history can repeat itself.
“We’re not satisfied; the end is not here,” the number eight said.
“We’ll play in the last eight and have another chance to show our game to our people. Each of us are playing to have more of that opportunity.
“South Africa looked really scary at the start of the week, but we begin to feel really excited as we understand the game and think about how to break them down. That fear gradually fades and confidence rises.”
This is going to be special.
— Rugby World Cup (@rugbyworldcup) October 17, 2019
Japan were thrashed 41-7 by the Rugby Championship holders in a pre-tournament Test last month and Springboks captain Siya Kolisi says that served as a small measure of revenge.
“That was very tough to lose that match in England. That stuck with us until that game when we got here [before this World Cup],” the flanker said. “It’s something that we never want to go through again.”
He added: “They are a much better team now, and it was good to play that game before the World Cup, just to get that monkey off our back.
“Now it’s a different game again. We are going to have to be at our best again, because they have really improved as a team – they are much better now than four years ago. So we are looking forward to the challenge.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Japan – Michael Leitch
The inspirational Leitch and his opposite number Kolisi are set for another monumental battle, while also keeping calm heads and ensuring their sides stay disciplined with so much at stake.
Leitch will need to lead by example again after an inspired display against Scotland.
South Africa – Cheslin Kolbe
Kolbe missed the Springboks’ final pool match against Canada as a precautionary measure after taking a blow to his ankle in the victory over Italy.
The livewire wing claimed a clinical double in the 49-3 drubbing of the Azzurri and also touched down twice in the warm-up rout of Japan, so the hosts must be wary of the threat he poses.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– Japan’s victory over South Africa in England was their first against a tier one nation in the tournament at their 16th attempt.
– South Africa scored more tries (27) and points (185) than any other side in the pool stage. Japan scored have scored only 13 tries en route to the last eight.
– Japan made 559 metres against Scotland, the third time in the tournament they had made 500 plus metres in a match.
– Springboks wing Kolbe averaged 12.8 metres per carry in the pool stage, the best rate of any player to make at least 10 carries.
– South Africa won all of their 47 line-outs on their own throw in the pool stage, the only side in the tournament to have a 100 per cent success rate.
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