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Mental strength key to Japan's preparation for South Africa clash

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By Jack Tarrant

TOKYO (Reuters) – Attention to detail has been key to Japan’s success so far at the Rugby World Cup, with coach Jamie Joseph preparing the players in camp since January and stressing the need for different game plans for each opponent.

This stretches even as far as the junior members of the squad. Before each match, the reserve players have been studying the tactics of their opponents’ scrum and then replicating that in practice, giving the starting pack ideal preparation.

This has resulted in Japan consistently challenging their much heavier opponents at scrum time, something they will need to do on Sunday when they take on South Africa in the quarter-finals.

“We make a firm strategy for a good scrum,” said scrum coach Shin Hasegawa on Wednesday. “(Hooker Takuya) Kitade and (back row Yoshitaka) Tokunaga are contributing and help us build our scrummaging strategy.

“(They make us realise) what we want to do and what sort of scrum we want to have. When they are able to do this it gives us immense confidence.

“When an opponent changes, our scrummaging changes and players change.

“When we feel that we need to educate each player (on various way of scrummaging), non-team members help us and give us comfort.”

Since taking over in 2016, Joseph has also looked to make his players’ more independent.

This has meant relying on a leadership group containing the likes of captain Michael Leitch, flanker Pieter Labuschagne and flyhalf Yu Tamura.

His coaches have also had to adapt.

“It is important for a coach to tell a player what he thinks but when I spoke to Jamie, I was told that I am being too much of a perfectionist,” conceded Hasegawa.

“He told me to let the players decide and give them independence. He taught me how players should spend a week to be able to correct themselves on the pitch.”

Joseph even employed a mental coach, David Galbraith, who has been challenging his players in situations of stress to try and replicate the decisions they will have to make on the field.

“He makes quizzes and writes them on the whiteboard,” revealed hooker Atushi Sakate.

“It is part of the training, focusing on how to use your brain under pressure and in tough situations.

“You have to make decisions during the toughest time during the match. You use your brain. That is why it was put up when you have tough weightlifting training.”

Japan know they will need all their wits about them against the experience of two-time champions South Africa in Tokyo on Sunday.

(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; additional reporting by Yoko Kono; editing by Christian Radnedge)

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