The former Brave Blossoms lock looks ahead to England versus Japan
It has been 20 years since Luke Thompson watched a Rugby World Cup as a spectator rather than a player and the Japan legend will be paying a particularly close eye to today’s clash between the Brave Blossoms and England in Nice.
The New Zealand-born second row featured at four World Cups for his adopted country, playing a leading role in their historic win over South Africa in 2015 and their run to the quarters on home soil four years later.
The first of those saw Thompson work hand-in-hand with Steve Borthwick, Japan’s forwards coach at the time and now England’s man in charge.
And while Eddie Jones rightly gets much of the credit for the Brave Blossoms’ Brighton miracle, Thompson knows better than anyone how important Borthwick was that day.
“I get on really well with Steve and I’m a big fan of his,” says Thompson, fresh from landing in Nice for a short visit where he will take in the England game.
“He was great at preparing the guys and putting together a plan and a strategy to get you ready for the match.
“I found him really great to work with. As a lineout leader, he was able to prepare me really well. I had a good idea of what was coming at me both in defence and attack. He made it simple for me to read what was coming and make good decisions.
“He put heaps of work into making sure the boys had the basic skillset and knew their detail but had the ability to play at the top level. He did a lot of the hard work that made it easier for us.”
Given that, it is little surprise that Luke Thompson was so desperate to impress Borthwick.
“I find that there are guys that you want to play for, you want to do well for them,” he explained. “They aren’t necessarily ranters and ravers, but you want to play well for them. He’s one of those guys that you wanted to do well for, you wanted to play for him. (Japan backs coach) Tony Brown is another. They have this innate quality about them that means that you want to succeed for them and he had it.”
If there is one try that encapsulates what Borthwick brought to that Japan team, it was Ayumu Goromaru’s score against the Springboks in that 2015 pool game. Best-remembered for the stunning hands and running lines that put the full-back through untouched, Thompson’s recollections are of how Borthwick nailed the preparation to ensure that Victor Matfield did not steal the lineout that started the move.
He recalls: “I love that lineout before the Goromaru try. Everyone knows the try, but that lineout was perfect. We had talked about it in prep, we knew where the throw had to be because we knew Matfield would be coming over my back trying to get it. So it had to be fast and so all the little things were crucial.
“We had one of the better lineout percentages in that World Cup because of his preparation and attention to detail.”
So what does that mean for today in Nice? Borthwick’s England are up and running after their 27-10 win over Argentina, while Japan also opened with a win, comfortably seeing off Chile 42-12.
What will Luke Thompson’s former team-mates have to do if they are to deny his old coach?
“I really think Steve will target Japan’s set-piece, the mauling side of things is going to be huge,” he said.
“If Japan can defend the English maul and not give away penalties, it will give them the opportunity to get in field position with scoring opportunities. That would put Japan right in the mix but if England get that forward dominance and momentum off that set-piece, it could be a hard day.
“Getting that win (against Chile) was really huge, you’re only as good as your last performance. That Japan team has been struggling a bit, to get that win was a really big result for them to get them back on track. Hopefully they have turned a corner and are building some confidence.”
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