Tokyo - South African sports minister Nathi Mthethwa has told the Springboks that World Cup victory is "most important" as a unifying symbol for the Rainbow Nation.

Mthethwa delivered his message personally on Friday when he met the players on the eve of their opening clash against reigning champions New Zealand in Yokohama.

Winning the Webb Ellis Cup would have national significance, the minister told AFP, as he watched the first black Springbok skipper Siya Kolisi lead the side through their pre-match paces.

"From the opening match, the most important thing for us is clinching victory, the World Cup itself, so we're confident," he said.

"It means a lot. A win for South Africa here in Japan is a victory for the whole of the country, especially in the project of uniting our people."

Sporting success has been an integral part of South Africa's development since the poignant moment South Africa won the 1995 World Cup final and Nelson Mandela, wearing a Springbok jersey, presented the trophy to captain Francois Pienaar.

"Sport in South Africa has worked as a unifying factor for all of us so it's so important for us as a government in this difficult situation of a global economic slump," added Mthethwa.

"People are depressed all over the world and they're looking for something that is going to cheer them up, to boost them," said the minister.

He added that after winning the 1995 World Cup on home soil and repeating the feat in France 12 years later, South Africa were looking "to make history in another continent... so we have conquered the world as it were."

Saturday's clash is scheduled for 11:45 (SA time).

Teams:

South Africa

15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff 

Substitutes: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Jesse Kriel

New Zealand

15 Beauden Barrett  14 Sevu Reece, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Ardie Savea, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody

Substitutes: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Ofa Tuungafasi, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Sonny Bill Williams, 23 Ben Smith