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Hotel challenges pale in comparison to Boks threat for Welsh

by Ace Damon
Hotel challenges pale in comparison to Boks threat for Welsh

TOKYO (AP) – As if it weren't a busy enough week for the Wales rugby team, the Tokyo hotel where players are staying is also being used by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the festivities around enthronement of the new emperor of the country.

The streets around the hotel were closed. Dignitaries and leaders are coming and going. Security is strict, including the use of metal detectors. The Welsh are having to use a separate entrance.

"We don't know how our bus will come and go in the next few days," said Wales coach Warren Gatland. "We have some challenges to solve."

Certainly, nothing will be greater than the physical challenge presented by the Springboks over the weekend.

"It will be a real battle," Wales defense coach Shaun Edwards said on Tuesday, leaning over a desk in a suite at New Otani Hotel in central Tokyo.

No rugby team prides itself on winning the physical battle more than South Africa, described by Edwards as "the best defensive team in the world".

The Springboks package, led by giant padlock Eben Etzebeth, is huge and enjoys the confrontation.

Gatland spoke of the Boks trying a few years ago to emulate New Zealand and Australian southern hemisphere rivals by playing more broadly and forgetting their trademark strengths – the direction lines, the strong scrum, the heavy loading of ball.

Basically, total physicality.

This came back with Rassie Erasmus, a former South African flanker who became coach of the team in March last year and took her to the rugby championship title in August.

Wales lost to South Africa in the quarterfinals of the 2015 World Cup but have won all four matches since then. The last two were against Erasmus-trained teams, but both were in 2018 and the Boks have since started.

Edwards predicts that the game will be decided by a score and is confident that the contest will be articulated.

"A lot of people think that in defense you don't want to lose any tackles, but that's not one of the key performance indicators for winning a game," he said. “One of the biggest is the gain line. You gave up the gain line, didn't you give up the gain line?

“This is the biggest indicator of winning or losing the game in defense. It will be a real battle on the edge. "

Edwards supported his team to win if they could keep South Africa between 13 and 15 points, around the average Wales awarded per game in their Six Nations Grand Slam race this year.

And that would mean the first World Cup final for a country that lives and breathes rugby.

"It's time to enjoy the moment," said Edwards. "These opportunities don't come up very often."

Wales will be without number 8, Josh Navidi, who was injured in the 20-19 win over France in the quarterfinals and missed the rest of the tournament.

In a surprise move, Gatland decided to hire 21-year-old Owen Lane – replacing a striker with a full-back.

Perhaps because there are doubts about the suitability of the Jonathan Davies and Hadleigh Parkes centers for the Springboks game.

Lane, who has only one cap in his name – against Ireland in a World Cup warm-up – could also be the center.

"He has great jokes too," said Edwards, offering another reason for Lane's call. "Sometimes you need it after being away from home for so long."

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More AP Rugby World Cup: https://www.apnews.com/RugbyWorldCup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

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Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

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