Tokyo: Springbok Cheslin Kolbe, one of the stars of the Rugby World Cup, admitted on Wednesday he had a soft spot for the free-flowing attacking style employed by quarter-final opponents Japan.
The hosts are the shock inclusion in the last-eight knockout phase, having won all four games in Pool A, including memorable victories over Six Nations giants Ireland and Scotland.
“Japan are definitely playing an exciting brand of rugby,” said Kolbe. “They’re giving the ball a lot of air and they want to stretch your defensive structures.
“It’s definitely a style I’d love to play.”
Kolbe, whose diminutive stature belies the rugby stereotype of bigger is better, was full of praise for try-scoring Japan wingers Kenki Fukuoka and Kotaro Matsushima, who have both enjoyed fantastic World Cups.
“Dynamite comes in small packages!” Kolbe said, with neither Japanese winger boasting gargantuan physical dimensions.
“We all have something special we can contribute to our various teams.”
Kolbe added: “Both the Japan wingers are currently playing really phenomenal rugby. They’ve been on good form.
“Fukuoka is a very good player, he’s got a lot of speed, he’s really powerful and explosive ... a really good all-round player.”
Kolbe has already played against Fukuoka, when helping South Africa to victory over Japan in the bronze medal match in the Rio Olympics rugby sevens competition, and also the Pretoria-born Matsushima, in the domestic Currie Cup back in 2012.
“Matsushima loves to run with the ball and just have a lot of freedom,” he said.
Kolbe has underlined his status as one of rugby union’s hottest properties with a couple of scintillating displays in Japan, combining lightning footwork with an ability to ride a tackle, and solid defence.
“I love to have ball in general play and having one-on-one opportunities within a game and create as many opportunities not for myself but players around me,” the Bok said.
“There are lots of different situations in the game where you have to be the best in every ability that you can, especially when it comes to high balls, defence and running with ball in hand.
“I enjoy running with the ball in hand and whenever I do get opportunities, I’ll make sure I keep on having fun.”
Kolbe added that little stock was now put in the 2015 World Cup pool defeat by Japan, widely regarded at the time as one of the sport’s biggest upsets.
“We know that it’s happened, it’s four years later, it’s a new opportunity for us and we keep on building,” he said.
“We’ll make sure we’re really well prepared and just implement what the coaches want from us and not have what happened in 2015 at the back of our heads.”
England v Australia, 11.15am
New Zealand v Ireland, 2.15pm
Wales v France, 11.15am
Japan v South Africa, 2.15pm