Finn Russell Japan vs South Africa, Rugby World Cup: Five things we learned as Springboks’s fierce defence lays platform for win

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1. Japan’s early ambition comes unstuck

Japan have captured the attention and adoration of the rugby world with their commitment to playing attacking rugby and their appetite to go from deep. But they have chosen their moments well during the World Cup, and have not been afraid to exit more conventionally when there is not the opportunity to play.

Here they were guilty of trying to do too much too soon. From the very first phase after the kick-off they launched a crossfield kick attempt inside the 22, but the wing was well marked, and Makazole Mapimpi nearly gathered for a simple score.

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After another curious attempted exit went awry, South Africa were handed a scrum on the 22-metre line. With the early ascendancy at the set piece, Mapimpi was handed the ball confronted by just one defender in a fifteen metre channel.

In their attempts to protect slight fly-half Yu Tamura from big carriers like Duane Vermeulen at the base and Damian de Allende on the hard line in midfield, Japan pushed their ten out wide to cover the blindside wing. It was a smart idea in theory, but the rapidly retreating scrum tied in the flankers and left Tamura on an island with the dangerous Mapimpi.

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Failing to close the space and on the back foot as he tried to follow the weave of the wing, Tamura went too high in an attempt to hold the player up for support to chop him down, allowing Mapimpi to brush him away all too easily and rattled over to get South Africa off to the perfect start.

2. Barnes’ yellow card decision too hasty?

Wayne Barnes is the best referee in the world, combining an empathetic style with clear communication to make the games he is in charge of better to watch without compromising either the laws of the game or player safety.

He is a referee who is confident in his decisions, sometimes to a fault. When Tendai Mtawarira lifted Keita Inagaki and the tackle went beyond the horizontal, Barnes was definite in his decision, choosing not to consult the TMO and producing the yellow card.

Mtawarira was perhaps lucky Barnes was so forthright. Inagaki appeared to land on his head or neck, which would meet the threshold for a red card, with the duty of care lying with the tackler and Mtawarira not attempting to bring his opposite number down safely.

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