Heyneke Meyer (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - The most experienced Springbok side ever are bracing themselves for a different kind of challenge when the face Japan in their Rugby World Cup opener in Brighton on Saturday.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer on Wednesday named Jean de Villiers as captain of the national side for this very important match against a team South Africa has never played.
The starting team boasts a combined total of 880 Test caps, eclipsing the previous most experienced side (836 caps), which played in the Springboks’ last Rugby World Cup match against Australia in Wellington, New Zealand in 2011.
The selection shows six changes from the side that beat Argentina in Buenos Aires a month ago. De Villiers’ inclusion at inside centre is the only change to the backline, while Francois Louw returns at the side of the scrum.
The tight five has been reshuffled, with Lood de Jager and Jannie du Plessis both back from injury, while Bismarck du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira will start yet again.
On the bench, Coenie Oosthuizen, Fourie du Preez and JP Pietersen return from injury, while Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane and Siya Kolisi have also been included amongst the substitutes.
“We’ve decided to go with some form of continuity as it’s important to get a good start in the tournament, but we also wanted to bring back a number of players who have recently recovered from injury,” said Meyer.
“It’s great to see Jean, Francois, Lood, Jannie, Coenie, Fourie and JP back in action, and while we probably could’ve played Duane Vermeulen and Eben Etzebeth, in the end we decided to give them another week to fully recover from their injuries.
“The backline is almost unchanged as we also decided to reward the players who did so well in Buenos Aires. There will in all likelihood be changes again next week but for now these players deserve another opportunity to stake a claim.”
Meyer said Saturday’s Test will be a great occasion against an opponent that will challenge the Springboks on different levels.
“We play against the big teams from the Southern and Northern Hemisphere quite often and with them it’s mostly a case of you know what to expect,” said Meyer.
“But Japan will pose a different threat. They have a very astute coach in Eddie Jones and our players who play in Japan have warned us to expect a very high tempo game and good, low tackling to stop momentum.
“The players know that nothing but their best will be good enough on Saturday and we realise the importance of starting the World Cup on a good note, but having said that, we also know that there is no such thing as an easy game in rugby anymore and they will be just as fired up as us.
“Decision-making will be key on Saturday and it’s up the players to know when and how to vary our play. We can play tactically if we have to, but we can also attack with ball in hand and I’d like to see a good blend of that this weekend.”
15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 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
Substitutes: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Fourie du Preez, 22 Handre Pollard, 23 JP Pietersen