Teams prepare for one final push

(IRB.COM) Thursday 28 June 2012
 Teams prepare for one final push
Fly-half Jumpei Ogura is an inspirational captain for Japan and will be a key player in the final. Photo: David Brinton

Match day three of the IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2012 on Tuesday was telling, not just because it sorted out the final pool standings and who would play in the final. It also told us plenty about the relative forms of those teams left to contest the big match in Salt Lake City on Saturday.

And as Japan prepare to face the USA in that all-important game, with promotion to the Junior World Championship 2013 at stake, it must be the Brave Blossoms who feel the more comfortable about their situation.

Nicknamed the “Cardiac Kids” after three thrilling matches in Pool B, Japan have shown a level of composure and maturity that belies their Under 20 status. Their adherence to a specific game plan, designed to compensate for their relative lack of bulk, has been impressive and it has led them to victory over teams considerably bigger and physically stronger. Beating a massive Georgia outfit on Tuesday is perhaps the most apposite case in point.

Inspirational captain and lynchpin at fly-half is Jumpei Ogura. He is content with his team’s overall performance and that the plan is working so far.

Defence is central to Japan's success

“It will be the final match for us, so we will do our utmost, as always. We will treat it like all the games – we have a plan and we will do our best to deliver. Our defence is central to our success. We have concentrated on tackling, especially lower tackling. And then, in attack, we have used the maul to good effect and we try to move the ball as quickly as possible.

“Even though our forwards are little, they get tight. And even if the opponents are big, our forwards are difficult to move. It’s an important part of our game. We are not big but we are strong and we support each other.” 

However, head coach Ryuji Nakatake is still not completely happy.

“The target against Georgia was that all tackles had to be made by two players because they were much bigger than us. That is our challenge against our next opponent in our next match. The first half we did our game plan but the second half was not like that. It's not very good,” said Nakatake.

“On Tuesday, after half-time, each player tackled as an individual, not as team. The alignment was not very good. That is something we must improve on.”

No complacency in USA camp

Meanwhile, the USA put in an uncharacteristically shaky performance against winless Russia, a fact that will certainly help to eradicate any sense of complacency that may have crept into the camp following hugely impressive displays against Tonga and Chile. Utility back Kingsley McGowan, who would normally be in the first-choice 15, came on as a replacement in the Russia game as the coach chose to rest certain key players. McGowan realises it wasn’t a flawless game.

“It was a good game overall. It wasn't the performance we wanted, but a win's a win. We'll get on it tomorrow, look at the film and see some of the mistakes we made and hopefully correct them. I'm looking forward to it,” said McGowan.

“We're pretty excited that we’re in the final. We could have done better in the game against Russia but that's just the mentality of the team. We always want to do better. We're getting there and we’re looking forward to Saturday now.”

“I'm loving being here and I'm glad I made it into this team. This tournament is definitely a step up. It's really fast. It's much faster than what we normally play and it's quicker when it comes to decision-making. In our leagues, you have time, you can get by with just athleticism. But for the JWRT you have to know the game. You have to be ready to make changes if something goes wrong, you have to make that adjustment. That's ultimately the key to the game.”

“Japan are a great side. They run beautiful lines and they all know the game very well. They are very technically sound and well coached. We just have to match that and pick up our hustle and aggression to really push us forward against them.” 

Our heads are still held high, say Tonga
Despite not making the final after starting the tournament as pre-event favourites, Tonga head coach Otenili Tuipulotu is content with his side’s performances overall. He said: “What we have done is to eliminate the errors from the first game. We still have a lot to improve on. In a short tournament like this, you really can't change much. You just go for the priority errors and work on those.” 

“Every game is just a game but we really don’t want to lose any more games. We came here to win it all, but that’s how it goes. We are happy because we are a nation of 150,000 and we are playing against countries of millions. We don't have the population.”

Wilson Lavelua, who scored in Tonga’s victory over Chile, added: “We are looking for pride so winning the third/fourth-place play-off is important for us. We came out here and our first goal was to take out this tournament so we could go up to the Junior World Championship. Our heads aren’t down. They are held high. We'll continue to train hard. We'll keep doing what we came out to do, and that's to play to the best of our ability and try win as many games as we can and make our country proud.”

“The local support from Tongan people living in Utah has been awesome. We feel like we we're in Tonga, that we're back home. It's amazing that they go out of their way. Even outside of us playing, they hold events for us. That strong community support is there. We appreciate it so much. We're so grateful to be in this place with so many Tongans. That's another thing to play for to please them and make them proud.”