Scotland have made big strides under their coach Vern Cotter, and have enjoyed two ultimately comfortable victories over Japan and USA. At present South Africa are fifth, Scotland ninth, and Samoa 11th.
It effectively matches up the previous darlings of the Rugby World Cup era against the current upset kings. “I’m sure they [Japan] will be looking at doing the same to us”.
“To see the growth of the team, from us winning in Romania to beating Wales, Italy and now South Africa, has been great to be involved in”.
Samoa and Japan each have a win and a loss, and are still in contention for a quarterfinal berth.
Samoa might just have the edge because of their physicality, but it will depend on whether the Japanese can repeat their heroics of the South African game.
Jones has set an ambitious target for the 2019 World Cup hosts of reaching the quarter finals.
Jones, who steps down after the World Cup to take over at South Africa’s Western Stormers, has selected his most battle-hardened XV including caps record-holder Hitoshi Ono, who will stride out for his 96th appearance.
However, the former Australia boss is wary of the physical Samoans who out-muscle and out-stretch his team in nearly every division. “We have ex-players who have helped with that stuff off the field”.
If they can, and they have had 10 days off to freshen up since their loss to Scotland, then they could well find themselves going into their last match against the U.S. still in with a chance of qualifying for the playoffs.
“The only thing we’re worrying about is the injuries we got from the Scotland game”.
New captain Fourie du Preez, after getting in 80 minutes last week, will join Duane Vermeulen in trying to hit top momentum as they continue with their respective comebacks.
Its dramatic group stage victory over two-time Rugby World Cup victor, South Africa, has seen interest in the sport spike in what a few have since wittily dubbed “the land of the rising scrum”. “But probably at the moment we’re batting two or three which is quite an elevation”, Jones added.
“We know we’ve got a big task ahead of us”.
Japan’s pack, once the butt of jokes and considered little more than a speed-bump on the way to the try-line by rugby’s elite nations, has been transformed and the man behind that dramatic shift allows himself a satisfied smile.