Cardiac Kids have Georgia on their mind

(IRB.COM) Sunday 24 June 2012
 Cardiac Kids have Georgia on their mind
Georgia's pack hold the key to continued success in the tournament. Lock Sandro Koiava has been a giant around the pitch. Photo: David Brinton

With Japan and Georgia each boasting two wins from two games in Pool B of the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy in Salt Lake City, that head-to-head is shaping up to be the crucial encounter of Round 3 with a place in the June 30 final up for grabs.

The quick, high-energy Japanese have had two nail-biting matches with the results against Zimbabwe and Canada in doubt right up until the final whistle, leading them to be dubbed the “Cardiac Kids” of the tournament.

Will those tight, tough matches make them mentally strong and supremely confident or will they have taken a physical toll on the players leaving them sore, fatigued and emotionally spent? Only time will tell.

Japan coach Ryuji Nakatake, whose nerves have perhaps suffered the most from the exciting results, seems to think that the close finishes will benefit his team.

It's not good for my heart, says Japan coach

“I think from that experience, they are getting better mentally. They have learned a lot of mental toughness,” he said. “However, while it might be good for the players, those tight games are not always good for the coaches. They are not good for my heart.”

Flanker Hayato Nishiuchi is still concerned that his team is leaking too many soft scores. He said: "We need to work on our defence. We have to work on our contact situation, we need to get lower in order to deal with the fact that other teams are bigger than us. And if we are winning, we must have the attitude that we are not winning. Our intensity must be 100 per cent at all times during the game. We have to try all the time."

As for Georgia, they will feel that they can continue to improve as the tournament progresses. Starved of pre-tournament match time, the first matches have been marked by a certain rustiness and poor decision-making. But in both their games, against Canada and Zimbabwe, Georgia finished strongly with lock Sandro Koiava a giant at set pieces and around the pitch. Coach Ian Smith just wants his boys to stick to the plan and concentrate on their own game.

"It's just a pattern of play really. We're just making sure we stick to what we do in training. Hopefully, if we do well enough it will come off. That's the challenge… We're lacking game time. We've improved since our first match but it's nowhere near where it should be. I think we'll keep improving. Our defence is very good and that is crucial… The guys are more confident. Once you understand in the game what you have to do, it comes easier to you than you thought it would." 

Meanwhile, in Pool A, USA full-back Madison Hughes has been the star of the tournament so far and his remarkable points tally of 34 out of his team’s 54 against Chile has underscored his role as dangerman for the Americans. That victory has all but guaranteed the home team a place in the final but they’ll be keen to keep up the pressure with a convincing win over bottom of the table, Russia on Tuesday.

USA's star earns his stripes

Hughes is content with how the match against Chile panned out.

“We felt if we worked hard and wore them down that we would eventually get opportunities out wide and, especially in the first half, we put pressure on them, forcing them into mistakes,” said the Dartmouth College sophomore.

“We had a bit of a lull early in the second half, which wasn't good because it let them back into the match. We will look at that on the film and see where we can improve. We'll try to keep going and play our systems. We believe if we just play our game we will come out on top against anyone because we have a lot of great players. All the teams are getting better from game to game so Russia will be a tough test.”

Three tries, two conversions and five penalties is a fine individual haul by any standards but Hughes was quick to deflect the praise and point out his team’s all-round effort.

"I was pretty happy with my performance but my teammates set up me well. Tua (Laei) put in a good kick for my second try, Will put in a great pass for my third. I came up on the score sheet but it was a total team effort that scored the tries. Our forwards did great and that made it easy for us out in the backs.” 

Tonga keep the pressure on home side

For Tonga, it was important that they put in a strong performance against Russia after narrowly losing to the USA in the first round. And their 62-7 win means that the pressure is still on the home team. Slip up against the Russians and Tonga will most likely be there to take their place in the final.

Tonga head coach Otenili Tuipulotu said: “We finished our game better today than (Monday). We worked on that. We didn't change much. We just want to eliminate all our errors that happened last game.”

“It's always the same. The front guys do all the hard work the backs get the credit. But it's teamwork. I try to tell them to keep the ball moving. It's a 15-a-side game. It is great to have so many fans here. We always have supporters wherever we go. Even Samoans join in. All the Pacific Islands are the same,” he said.