South African winger Cheslin Kolbe (left) and Japanese winger Kenki Fukuoka will be key to their side's chances in Sunday night's quarter-final.
South African winger Cheslin Kolbe (left) and Japanese winger Kenki Fukuoka will be key to their side's chances in Sunday night's quarter-final.

Japan braces for a wing-dong battle

If Japan's new rugby heroes only think of chopping down South Africa's giants, they will be stung on Sunday night by the elusive wing wonder who could yet be Player of the Tournament.

Just like the Brave Blossoms, Springboks winger Cheslin Kolbe has been a confounding force at this Rugby World Cup because he packs such a punch in a small package.

At 1.75m, Japanese flyer Kenki Fukuoka looks down on few players at this tournament but the 1.71m Kolbe is one.

In a code that worships steamrolling size, the wing rivals for Sunday night's riveting quarter-final in Tokyo are a throwback to when footwork, instinct and alert opportunism ruled.

 

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Kolbe, 25, returns from the ankle injury he picked up after two tries against Italy while Fukuoka's two tries to sink Scotland are still being replayed endlessly on Japanese TV.

Fukuoka will have 50,000 roaring fans behind him at Tokyo Stadium but every Japanese player is driven by having an impact on millions more watching on TV.

"Some get power or courage, some might just enjoy it as a sport, but we always try to put in a performance that can move people," hooker Shota Horie said.

For influential No.8 Kazuki Himeno, upsetting Ireland and Scotland is not job done..

"We sent the message to the world that Japan has the quality to break into Tier 1 (with the top nations)," Himeno said.

"We've achieved the last eight but what we do from here is also important.

"I was thinking of urging my teammates to shift focus but there wasn't even the need for that because they're all fired up for the South Africa game."

Reserve halfback Fumiaki Tanaka wants this World Cup fairytale to flow into ongoing growth for Japanese rugby.

"I want the strengthening of the Japan team to continue and the opportunity for the players to meet children," he said.

Japan's excellent defence with chop tacklers and ball-thieves at the breakdown didn't just start at this tournament.

"We've been honing rush defence for the past three years and have a clear image of applying pressure and getting the ball back to get on the front foot," Himeno said.

The Japanese want speed and chaos in the game with quick taps, quick lineouts and ball movement while the South Africans will be wise to slow things down.

Giant South African locks Lood de Jager (2.05m) and Eben Etzebeth (2.03m) tower over Japanese rivals James Moore (1.95m) and Luke Thompson (1.96m).

The tale of the tape has meant nothing to the Japanese in this tournament. One more giant-killing effort? No one is ruling it out.