Cape Town - Captain Siya Kolisi believes there is something special about the Springbok team that will play in the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
The Boks take on the tournament hosts in Kumagaya on Friday in a warm-up match that will be their final match practice ahead of their tournament opener on September 21 contest against the All Blacks in Yokohama.
Friday will also see Kolisi back to captain the Boks for the first time since last year.
A serious knee injury had threatened Kolisi's participation in Japan but he is now back to full fitness, starting a Test for the first time this year and taking back the captaincy.
Speaking to media on Thursday, Kolisi acknowledged that it had been difficult not playing for the Boks this year, but he said he remained close to the system and the squad throughout his recovery and he was incredibly impressed by what he saw.
"I could see how hard the guys were working," Kolisi said.
"I have to say, this is a special group and what makes them so special is that they work so hard for one another.
"Rather than coming back into a team that was losing all the time, I was coming back into a team that was winning, which was extra pressure.
"The support I have had from my team-mates has been amazing. That’s one thing I enjoy about this team - I'm just grateful to be part of it."
Kolisi highlighted the challenge posed by Japan, with the Rugby World Cup defeat in Brighton in 2015 in the only previous meeting between the teams still a talking point.
"It was tough losing that game and it did make an impact as you have seen in the interest in this game," said Kolisi, one of eight survivors of that 34-32 defeat who will reappear on Friday.
"It did make us stronger as a team, but it really put Japan on the rugby map. They have done good things since then.
"They're much fitter and stronger and they know their systems and the game they want to play and it’s going to be a whole new challenge for us."
Kick-off on Friday is at 12:15 SA time.
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
16 Takuya Kitade, 17 Isileli Nakajima, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 James
Moore, 20 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 21 Yutaka Nagare, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23
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
16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 RG
Snyman, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Jesse
- Compiled by Lloyd Burnard