South Africa named a strong side Tuesday for their final World Cup warm-up match against hosts Japan, with head coach Rassie Erasmus viewing Friday’s contest as the perfect preparation for their tournament opener against New Zealand.
Erasmus made wholesale changes to the squad from the victory over Argentina last month with captain Siya Kolisi returning at flank for Friday’s clash in Kumagaya.
Kolisi’s inclusion is the only difference from the 23-man squad for the draw with New Zealand in July which means Japan can expect to face the full might of the Springboks.
Fellow flanker Pieter Steph du Toit will make his 50th test appearance for the Springboks in a formidable back row that also includes Duane Vermeulen at No. 8.
Erasmus said he picked a strong squad partially to prepare for the World Cup opener but also because of the respect the Springboks still hold for Japan, who famously beat them in the pool stages in Brighton four years ago.
“We respect Japan a lot and we think they are a very good team, who are ranked number nine in the world,” Erasmus told reporters in the central Japanese city of Gifu, where South Africa are holding their pre-tournament training camp.
“We want to prepare for New Zealand, who we play in two weeks’ time, but first we play Japan, who beat us the last time, so that is why we have picked a very strong team in respect for Japan.”
It is the first time South Africa will face Japan since that embarrassing loss.
“The way Japan play is a lot like New Zealand; a speed, high tempo game,” added Erasmus, who secured South Africa’s first Rugby Championship title for a decade earlier this year.
“They play a loose kind of game and we expect the same kind of game against New Zealand so there are a lot of similarities so that is also one of things we will try to gain out of this game.”
The two-time world champions are the first foreign team to arrive in Japan before the World Cup, which begins on Sept. 20.
Erasmus believes this extra time in Japan will help his players deal with the sticky, sweaty conditions likely to prevail in the early stages of the tournament.
“These conditions, which we have trained in for three days, I think we will get the benefits from that as it is totally different,” said Erasmus.
“We have already felt the heat, the humidity, the ball… Then the other teams only arrive next week or the week after that.”
“So I think definitely we will have the benefits. It is only one week extra and we have been together for 10 weeks so it is not a big sacrifice.”
South Africa Squad to face Japan
Forwards: Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi, Handre Pollard, Faf de Klerk, Duane Vermeulen, Pieter Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (captain), Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff.
Backs: Bongi Mbonambi, Tendai Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, RG Snyman, Francois Louw, Herschel Jantjies, Frans Steyn, Jesse Kriel.