Johannesburg - Instead of tearing into South Africa following their shock 34-32 defeat to Japan in their Rugby World Cup opener on Saturday, former Springbok coach Nick Mallett instead reserved praise for the winners.
“This was an exceptional performance. I didn’t expect us to be as impotent as we were and I certainly didn’t expect them to have the cutting edge they had,” Mallett said in the SuperSport studio after the game.
“They missed an opportunity to score at the beginning of the game ... but it is absolutely heartbreaking from South Africa’s point of view.”
While the Springboks outscored Japan four tries to three, Mallett believed the Boks’ defence and their game in general was below par.
“There was some poor defence by South Africa, there was some poor rugby by South Africa but to be absolutely honest you do not expect a side seeded second or third in the world to lose at a mutual venue against a team that is not even in the top-10,” he said.
Japan was particularly gutsy on defence where they kept on ‘chopping’ South Africa down in the tackle.
Their low entry into the tackle proved to be an effective weapon in their artillery as it negated much of South Africa’s big ball-carriers’ ability to get over the advantage line.
Where the carriers are used to dropping the shoulder down and make some metres, the Japanese tackle tactics saw them being stopped in their tracks.
“Their speed off the line particularly from their defensive line was exceptional, they managed to tackle our big forward ball carriers and forced us into a few turnovers,” Mallett said.
“We never got away from them, we never closed them out and we never got more than seven points away.”
Mallett managed to find some positives from one of the Springboks’ most embarrassing defeats.
“The one positive we’ve got is that we have two bonus point from this game, if we beat Samoa, Scotland and the USA where we manage to get a bonus point or two we can still finish at the top of the pool,” he said.
“This was an extraordinary performance by Japan to win but for them to go through and beat Samoa, Scotland and USA then we’ve grievously underestimated the strength of Japanese rugby.”