Boks shaken by earthquake, hope don’t get rattled by Italy

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              Players of Italy, left, and Namibia scrum during the Rugby World Cup Pool B game between Italy and Namibia in Osaka, western Japan, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019. (Yohei Fukuyama/Kyodo News via AP)
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SHIZUOKA, Japan (AP) — Springboks captain Siya Kolisi had a sleepless night in Japan on Tuesday.

It wasn’t because of roommate Cheslin Kolbe’s snoring. Or out of worry over South Africa’s next game at the Rugby World Cup against Italy, although there’s been fretting over that. It was an earthquake, one of around 1,500 Japan has every year. That doesn’t include other “seismic activity” like the approximately 1,000 tremors per day.

This quake, relatively gentle, rattled the area around Shizuoka on Japan’s Pacific Coast, and shook Kolisi out of his slumber at the team hotel perched high on a hill overlooking the ocean.

“I felt it,” Kolisi said Thursday. “Cheslin was sleeping and snoring so I thought it was him. It was something different. I have never felt anything like that. I was excited but scared at the same time.”

Kind of like the Springboks ahead of Italy in Pool B at Shizuoka Stadium on Friday.

After losing to defending champion New Zealand at the start of the World Cup, South Africa has had to refocus quickly for Italy. There’s no room for error now.

Lose, and South Africa would almost certainly be out in the pool stage of a Rugby World Cup for the first time. The only thing to save them would be top-ranked New Zealand losing twice, including to the lowest-ranked team at the tournament, Namibia. That’s not going to happen.

So, Italy is “do-or-die” for South Africa, in Kolisi’s words. The good news is that a win would put the quarterfinals in sight with only underdog Canada to come.

“It is quite clear that it is a playoff game and we all know that we need to win,” Kolisi said.

South Africa beat Namibia easily before the Italy game but still carries baggage from Yokohama and the loss to the All Blacks. Time to unload that.

“We made mistakes,” Kolisi said, “and they were very sharp with that and scored two tries from our mistakes. I know it wasn’t a great performance but we can’t smash ourselves about that now.”

Italy has had its sights on South Africa for much longer than the start of the World Cup, knowing way back that they would likely breeze past Namibia and Canada in their first two pool games. If Italy wins, the Azzurri are in the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time.

“We must be competitive. We must be determined and have the right attitude because we’ve been thinking about this match for four years,” Italy hooker Luca Bigi said.

In the middle of the front row, Bigi is likely to be at the epicenter of another fairly seismic event in Shizuoka.

Both forward packs can cause damage and both coaches are determined to use them. South Africa picked six forwards and just two backs on its bench to make clear what the Springboks are thinking. Italy did the same. It’s expected to be bruising.

“I’m glad I’m off the pitch and not on it,” Italy coach Conor O’Shea said.