Tokyo - Coach
Jamie Joseph insisted that Rugby World Cup hosts Japan will have no fear
going into their final warm-up against revenge-seeking South Africa
after naming a strong team on Wednesday.
The last time the teams met, hitherto tournament no-hopers Japan
stunned the Springboks 34-32 on the English south coast in their opening
game of the 2015 World Cup - an upset of such seismic proportions a
movie about it has just been released.
Adamant there will be no sequel, Joseph's opposite number, South
Africa coach Rassie Erasmus, named a full-strength side for Friday's
encounter in Kumagaya, north of Tokyo.
The return to the starting line-up of Springbok captain Siya Kolisi
after injury is the only change to the team that drew 16-16 with the All
Blacks in Wellington six weeks ago on the way to capturing their first
Rugby Championship since 2009.
"We're elated that coach Erasmus has picked what I think is their
strongest line-up," Joseph said after countering with a starting fifteen
led by talismanic captain Michael Leitch, now recovered from a lengthy
"It shows respect and it gives our players something to look forward
to. I've faced a lot of questions this last week about if I think it's a
risky game before the World Cup but unless we play the best teams,
we'll never get a true measure of where we are."
Joseph, who took over from
Eddie Jones after the last World Cup, has set a target of reaching the
quarter-finals for the first time and the Brave Blossoms limbered up by
winning the Pacific Nations Cup over the summer.
"Obviously this is a step up," said the former All Black, who has
left out experienced hooker Shota Horie to give him time to recover from
a neck issue, replacing him with Atsushi Sakate in a meaty front row
also including Uwe Helu and Luke Thompson.
"It will be a physical World Cup," added Joseph, whose side kick
things off against Russia in Tokyo on September 20 before further Pool A
games against Ireland, Samoa and Scotland.
"That's part of the reason we wanted to play South Africa. It's the
final page in our preparation, but it's not a must-win game -- the next
game (against Russia) is a must-win. It's about performance. If we
perform we will create a winning opportunity and that's our focus."
Just six players remain from the Japan team who toppled the Boks four
years ago, while the visitors are virtually unrecognisable from the
last World Cup.
Joseph warned that the Springboks, the world's fifth-ranked team who
face treble-chasing New Zealand in a blockbuster World Cup Pool B opener
in Yokohama on September 21, would come out firing.
"We are under no illusions how tough it will be," he said. "We are
playing probably the biggest lineout in world rugby and they're
preparing to play the All Blacks.
"But Russia have a very big pack, Samoa have a strong scrum," added
the 49-year-old, whose Japan side have become a regular fixture in the
world's top 10.
"Ireland and Scotland are also very aggressive - we have to contend with that pressure."
15 William Tupou, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Kaito Shigeno, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Michael Leitch (captain), 5 Uwe Helu, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Koo Ji-won, 2 Atsushi Sakate, 1 Keita Inagaki
Substitutes: 16 Takuya Kitade, 17 Isileli Nakajima, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 James Moore, 20 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 21 Yutaka Nagare, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23 Ataata Moeakiola
15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handré 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