Hotel challenges pale in comparison to Boks threat for Welsh
TOKYO (AP) — As if it’s not a busy enough week for Wales’ rugby team, the Tokyo hotel where the players are staying is also being used by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the festivities surrounding the enthronement of the country’s new emperor.
Roads around the hotel have been shut. Dignitaries and leaders are coming and going. Security is tight, including the use of metal detectors. The Welsh are having to use a separate entrance.
“We don’t know how our bus is going to get in and out in the next couple of days,” Wales coach Warren Gatland said. “We’ve got a few challenges to work through.”
Surely nothing will be greater, though, than the physical challenge put forth by the Springboks at the weekend.
“It’s going to be a battle royal,” Wales defense coach Shaun Edwards said Tuesday, leaning forward on a table in a suite at the New Otani Hotel in central Tokyo.
No team in rugby prides itself on winning the physical battle more than South Africa, described by Edwards as “the best defensive team in the world.”
The Springboks pack, led by giant lock Eben Etzebeth, is huge and relishes confrontation.
Gatland has spoken of the Boks attempting a few years ago to emulate southern hemisphere rivals New Zealand and Australia by playing more expansively and forgetting their trademark strengths — the driving lineouts, the strong scrum, the heavy ball-carrying.
Basically, out-and-out physicality.
That has returned under Rassie Erasmus, a former South Africa flanker who became coach of the team in March last year and led it to the Rugby Championship title in August.
Wales lost to South Africa in the 2015 World Cup quarterfinals but has won all four of their meetings since then. The last two have come against sides coached by Erasmus, but they were both in 2018 and the Boks have kicked on since then.
Edwards predicts the game will be decided by one score and is confident where the contest will hinge.
“A lot of people think that in defense, you don’t want to miss any tackles but it’s not one of the key performance indicators of whether you are going to win a game,” he said. “One of the biggest ones is the gain line. Did you give up the gain line, did you not give up the gain line?
“That is the biggest indicator of whether you win or lose the game in defense. It’s going to be a battle royal on the advantage line.”
Edwards backed his team to win if it could keep South Africa to 13-15 points, around the average Wales conceded per game in its run to the Six Nations Grand Slam this year.
And that would mean a first World Cup final for a country that lives and breathes rugby.
“It’s seize-the-moment time,” Edwards said. “These opportunities don’t come around very often.”
Wales will be without No. 8 Josh Navidi, who pulled a hamstring muscle in the 20-19 win over France in the quarterfinals and has been ruled out of the rest of the tournament.
In a surprise move, Gatland decided to draft in 21-year-old winger Owen Lane — thereby replacing a forward with a back.
That’s maybe because there are doubts surrounding the fitness of centers Jonathan Davies and Hadleigh Parkes going into the Springboks match.
Lane, who has just one cap to his name — against Ireland in a World Cup warmup — can also fill in as a center.
“He’s got some great banter, as well,” Edwards said, offering up another reason for Lane’s call-up. “Sometimes you need that after you’ve been away from home for so long.”