We'll create our own 'miracle', says Japan coach Jamie Joseph ahead of Springboks clash

Jamie Joseph relished clashes with the Springboks as an All Black and can't wait for Sunday as Japan coach. Picture: Getty Images
Jamie Joseph relished clashes with the Springboks as an All Black and can't wait for Sunday as Japan coach. Picture: Getty Images
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How do you top the greatest moment in a rugby team’s history? Go one better is the obvious answer but it is a formidable ask.

It was, though, the clear question worth posing to Japan’s rugby coach Jamie Joseph at a packed house in Tokyo after he announced his team for the hosts’ hotly-anticipated Rugby World Cup quarter-final against South Africa on Sunday.

The 28-21 win over Scotland, backing up a sensational overturning of Ireland, has created a frenzy of anticipation in the host country for Sunday’s quarter-final meeting with the Springboks.

They were, of course, the superpower Japan defeated in 2015 to create one of the sport’s biggest shocks under now England coach Eddie Jones. If they do it again, by its very nature, it won’t come as much as a surprise but in a World Cup on home soil in which the Brave Blossoms have already excelled themselves it would be a monumental moment for the sport.

But former All Blacks flanker Joseph said of what is now known as the ‘Brighton Miracle’ of four years ago: “No we won't be drawing on that at all, in fact, I've been trying to forget about it for the last four years. Everyone talks about it but we're a different team, different players.

"Yes, we’ve got some of the same players but that was an amazing achievement at the last World Cup, we're working on our own things and we won't be alluding to it.”

Joseph was one of the world’s loose-forward greats but only won 29 caps for New Zealand between 1992 and 1999 such is the ferocity of competition for that All Black jersey.

In the wake of the weekend’s devastating Typhoon Hagibis and the emotional display against the Scots in Yokohama, Joseph said that the hosts have made the most of their generous schedule.

"In some ways, we had to reset, It was a very physical game against Scotland, so we had the benefit of having a long week,” said the 49-year old of the generous schedule the hosts have been given for this tournament. “There are Test matches tomorrow if we had qualified second so it's a big benefit.

"What we chose to do was to give the first two-and-a-half days to basically refresh, didn't put too much rugby into players if anything at all.

"So the first day was just a lightweight session, the second day was just a walk-through so we didn't really start training until the third day. I think that will pay and has helped a hell of a lot, it allowed the players not just to get over the Scotland game but also absorb what they've actually achieved.”

What they have achieved is sparked a nation. It would be inaccurate to report that rugby is the topic on everyone’s lips in this densely populated archipelago. What with the super typhoon at the weekend and the regular business 127 million hard-grafting Japanese have to deal with on a daily basis, rugby is not the overriding obsession of a nation.

But it is playing big enough. A city like Tokyo, with a population of over 20 million takes a lot more effort to enthuse than some of the smaller venues across the country, and anybody who has been to Six Nations games in London and Paris will appreciate that often it is only a few miles radius that you’d even know a big match was on.

Ryohei Yamanaka at full-back in place of William Tupou, who took a head knock in Yokahama at the weekend, is the only change to Joseph’s starting XV that beat Scotland.

“Obviously it's going to be a tough match up front,” said Joseph. “I’d say all of our group are in form at the moment. However you can only pick 23. It's like any selection.

“There could be some guys we could all pick and then you come down to your combinations to finish it off. Then you figure out the style of game you're going to play, how you think the opposition will play and you end up with the 23 that we're all excited and comfortable with for this match.”

Joseph was clearly trying hard to not lick his lips too much at the prospect of Sunday.

"Personally as an ‘ex old rugby player’, South Africa are a team I respected the most as a player and that's because of the close rivalry over many years between New Zealand in Test matches in the past, something we got brought up with as kids.

"I really understand the rivalry and getting the opportunity to play for All Blacks three or four times against South Africa was always awesome occasion.

"On top of that you know what you'll always get playing South Africa and that's the sort of messages we've been telling the players, it's a bit different from 20 years ago, fast and physical now, years ago was totally different.

“The brawls and all the stuff going on we gained as much as we got but there was always a really respectful Test match and when the rugby was finished, done and dusted, we're all just good mates playing rugby together."

• Our Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup coverage is brought to you in association with Castle Water www.castlewater.co.uk