TOKYO • South Africa will have to shelve their affection for Japan to spoil the hosts' party in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals tomorrow, said coach Rassie Erasmus.
His team have been firm crowd favourites at the quadrennial tournament, with many Japanese fans donning Springboks replica jerseys to cheer them on.
But now, as his men stand in Japan's way of what would be a remarkable semi-final on home turf, the charismatic coach said: "It's really tough not to like Japanese people. The way they've accepted all teams, not just South Africa, in terms of adopting you, wherever we've stayed, putting on South African jerseys and making you feel at home is something special I've never experienced before."
He paid tribute to the "strength" shown by the hosts to stage their final pool match against Scotland - and win 28-21 - just 24 hours after the deadly Typhoon Hagibis.
But he pointed out that his men also have their own reasons to put in a passionate performance at the Tokyo Stadium.
"We are a very proud nation and we are a country with a lot of challenges and we want to represent our country with pride," said Erasmus, who added that "things don't always run fluidly" in his country.
The 47-year-old has picked a pack built to grind down the opposing forwards and loaded his bench with six forwards - so that they will be fresh to close the gaps at the fringes, which Japan exploited with clever running angles at pace against Scotland last Sunday.
Japan coach Jamie Joseph knows exactly the tactics used to stop their high-tempo attack, adding: "The consistency of their game is around giving the opposition the ball and using their defence and big forwards to pressure."
The New Zealander, 49 has been praised for his detailed match preparations, earning four wins from four to top Pool A. But he said the players have taken over now.
"It's really a good sign, as a coach when you feel a little bit redundant," he said yesterday.
"We've grown mentally and, with those improvements, there is improvement in their confidence and the game is improving."
Japan are looking to repeat their "Miracle of Brighton" heroics from the 2015 World Cup in England, where they beat South Africa 34-32 in one of the sport's biggest upsets.
But he had not factored it into his preparations, saying: "I've been trying to forget about it for the last four years. That was an amazing achievement but we're working on our own things."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS