Sun. Sep 20th, 2020

Himeno braced for the challenge of Springbok physicality

Japan’s jackal Kazuki Himeno wants to upstage the Springboks and says his team have a plan to combat the South African’s physicality.

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Japanese number 8 Kazuki Himeno says that he is relishing the experience of testing himself against the Springboks in their Rugby World Cup quarterfinal on Sunday.

Himeno is a ball-poaching backrow forward who has worked tirelessly to perfect the so-called ‘jackal’ manoeuvre at the breakdown, but he is also keen to take the Springboks on with the ball already in hand.

Can Himeno jackal against the Springboks?

The Brave Blossoms key man lines up opposite one of the game’s great carriers of the ball in Duane Vermeulen and hopes to make a few yards of his own against the Springboks aggressive defence.

Jackalling has been a great strength of Japan in the loose, knowing they cannot match physicality at ruck time the Blossoms have focused on getting in over the ball to win turnovers and penalties. The perfect jackal involves split-second timing as well as the strength to stay on your feet and not get shifted off the ball.

Himeno is a great exponent of this as a mobile eighthman but he admits that he can still perfect the craft further. The Japan loose forward revealed his admiration for Aussie fetcher and quintessential jackal Michael Hooper.

“My jackals have been good but there are players better at it, such as (Australia flanker Michael) Hooper, who I admire, so I want to hone it more,” said Himeno.

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Michael Hooper of Australia during the the 2019 Rugby Championship. Photo: Gordon Arons/Gallo Images

Himeno missed the 41-7 defeat to the Springboks in a RWC warm-up match and as such is dying to get onto the park to face one of world rugby’s greatest forces.

“South Africa are one of the best teams in the world so I wanted to play as an experience. Now I’ve got that chance so I’m nothing but excited,” he said. “I’m looking forward to see how much I can carry forward against the physicality of South Africa.”

Overcoming Bok physicality

Japan have done the little things very well throughout the tournament, one area of strength has been the great determination of the forwards to make it over the gainline in contact. The Blossoms carriers engage a furious leg-drive as soon as they are tackled to try to ensure they have the momentum to exploit the spaces out wide.

“Each play will affect the final outcome and, in my case, that will be the ball carry,” Himeno added.

“I need to go in low and try not to get chalked as they’re big. I need to finish off my driving move. Tactical details will be important, too, so we’ll study as a team and try to have the same picture in our head.”

Springbok insights

Himeno is coached by World Cup winner Jake White at Toyota Verblitz where Springbok Willie Le Roux is his teammate, and feels he has gained some insight into how South Africans play rugby.

“I feel what South Africa are trying to do is similar to what Jake wants to do,” he said. “Toyota play the same sort of rugby. I can understand and picture them a bit, so that’s a plus.”

Japan’s humble stars

Breaking into tier 1

Japan’s efforts at the Rugby World Cup have gone a long way towards helping them break into tier 1 of the global game. Victories over Ireland and Scotland have lifted them to 7th on World Rugby’s rankings just three places behind the Springboks. Japan head into the quarterfinal determined to make another big splash.

“We sent the message to the world that Japan has the quality to break into Tier 1. It was a massive thing for Japanese rugby. It’s pleasing to see the excitement throughout Japan and I hope the rugby culture takes root. It would be great if the Japanese people feel we can compete at this level.  

“We’ve been playing really good rugby and we played with confidence against Ireland and Scotland. So I can confidently say we’ve been playing well enough for the top level.”

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