Brave Blossoms no match for South Africa's power play

To some, it might not have been beautiful, but in the contest up front, the Springboks were pretty effective.

TOKYO, 20 Oct - Japan versus South Africa was a battle between two styles of rugby: South Africa's power game and Japan's rapid wide play.

For Japan to win, they would need to charge around, away from South Africa's defence. They would need to force the Springboks forwards to chase them around a pitch, their lungs burning. For periods in the first-half, Japan were able to execute that gameplan and they put South Africa under pressure.

Unfortunately for the hosts, as the game slowed, South Africa's power counted for more and they took the game away from Japan.

The first South Africa try highlighted the battle between the Springboks power and Japan's speed. The South African scrum dismantles the Japanese effort. Until the second-half substitutions the Japanese scrum had roughly kept parity with South Africa but the early signs were ominous.

One of the reasons why a powerful scrum is beneficial is that it ties all the defensive forwards in. In the clip below, Japan have hidden Yu Tamura on the blindside. Teams will often try and move weaker defenders away from where they think the action will happen, but in this situation it does not work.

Tamura is alone on the wing - that may seem to be a demanding defensive position - but he is expecting to receive help from blindside flanker Michael Leitch and number eight Kazuki Himeno. When South Africa drive in the scrum, it ties Leitch and Himeno in. Suddenly Tamura is by himself and his attempted tackle is not good enough to stop Makazole Mapimpi. 

One area where Japan struggled was the lineout and defending the maul. They lost five of their own lineouts and South Africa had an enjoyable day mauling against them, as the clip below shows.

Lood de Jager takes the lineout from replacement hooker Malcolm Marx, who swings to the back and initially the South African maul stalls. It only really starts to move when Pieter-Steph du Toit lends his weight to it.

Mauls are difficult to defend once they change direction. Japan had to recycle their own defenders whereas South Africa could keep everyone behind the ball. At points Japan had only three or four defenders halting progress. Once the defenders have to run back to rejoin the maul, it accelerates. Subtle changes force Japan to relocate their defenders and they spiral downhill towards their own line.

Japan clearly cannot commit all their defenders to stopping the maul. If they did that, Faf de Klerk would just move the ball wide. Once the maul starts losing momentum, Marx escapes to the side and has one defender to beat. It is another two-on-one. Marx takes contact and offloads to the rampaging de Klerk. This was the score that ended Japan's hopes.

We might think that the offloading wizardry of Fiji and Japan's speed of play is beautiful rugby. But there is also beauty in how South Africa dismantled Japan with their power.

Wales will have watched with interest. Somehow they need to stop the seemingly unstoppable Springboks force.

RNS sl/sdg/mr