South Africa v Japan match preview: Springboks to skip past the Brave Blossoms
The bookies’ third favourites to win the tournament have never failed to at least reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup. One of a trio of nations on the hunt for an historic third global crown, the Springboks are looking to spring into life from the off and put their poor form behind them.
South Africa have been blessed with one of the easiest Pools on paper and they are expected to easily make the last eight.
A lot has been made about the fact that this is an aging South Africa side, and it is. However when compared to the other 19 teams, they have the joint seventh highest average age, along with New Zealand, whom have also been accused of such.
Yet experience counts for plenty during the course of a World Cup, and when comparing the average caps of teams it is obvious that the Boks and All Blacks have been around the block a few times, with 42 and 48 respectively the highest amongst all the nations.
Remarkably, this starting lineup will have a combined 880 caps, 44 more than their previous test match record during their 19-11 quarter-final defeat to the Wallabies four years ago.
The Bokke are aiming to put some daylight between themselves and New Zealand and Australia, and stand alone as the most successful nation in World Cup history.
If they are to do so however then they need to find another few gears and quick, as they have won only two games this season. Consecutive defeats to Australia, New Zealand and Argentina were finally halted last month when South Africa exacted some revenge over the Pumas in a 26-12 win.
Some remnants from their 2007 triumph still remain, and Bryan Habana, the top try scorer from that World Cup rolled back the years to touchdown against Argentina. The 32-year-old and record South African tryscorer may have lost a yard or two of pace, but he is now a wily campaigner and will play a big part in his country’s tournament.
Big brutish Eben Eztebeth also made his presence felt in the victory over the South Americans, and the giant lock will be missed as he continues to recover from a calf strain.
Jean de Villiers returns to captain the side along with healed absentees Francois Louw and Fourie Du Preez.
With an average weight of 17stone 13lb, South Africa boast the joint second heaviest pack in the competition with England, just three pounds shy of Wales.
Whilst Japan have evolved their set plays in recent years, they are giving up nine pounds in the scrum and will surely be no match at the lineouts.
The Cherry Blossom’s best bet is to play to their strengths, by moving the ball quickly and using their pace against some seasoned South African legs.
Coach Eddie Jones has named his strongest possible side to tackle the Springboks and sees the game as a great chance to make history.
“It’s a real David versus Goliath game.”
“South Africa have the greatest winning record in World Cup history. They are a massive physical team with plenty of experience. Japan have the least winning record in the World Cup and have the smallest team. But it is a great opportunity and I’m looking forward to it.”
South Africa have the pedigree and the heavy hitters to run away with this one. Experience counts for an awful lot and they have it in bucket loads. The Springboks are sure to dominate in almost every area of the park, but they will do well not to underestimate a highly motivated Japan team. Captain Michael Leitch is a force to be reckoned with and his power and pace, and they also possess players such as third rower Amanaki Mafi and scrum-half Fumiaki Tanaka who can cause some real damage.
South Africa by 25.
South Africa: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Fourie du Preez, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 JP Pietersen.
Japan: 15 Ayumu Goromaru, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Male Sau, 12 Craig Wing, 11 Kotaro Matsushima, 10 Kosei Ono, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Hendrik Tui, 7 Michael Broadhurst, 6 Michael Leitch, 5 Hitoshi Ono, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Masataka Mikami.
Replacements: 16 Takeshi Kazu, 17 Keita Inagaki, 18 Hiroshi Yamashita, 19 Shinya Makabe, 20 Amanaki Mafi. 21 Atsushi Hiwasa, 22 Harumichi Tatekawa, 23 Karne Hesketh.