Rassie Erasmus named 22 of the Springbok 23 that fought to a last-gasp draw against New Zealand in July, for Friday’s clash with Japan in Kumagaya, which will mark the 50th Test appearance for Pieter-Steph du Toit, SA Rugby’s Player of the Year for 2018.
The return to the starting line-up of Springbok captain Siya Kolisi, now fully recovered from injury, is the only change to the team that drew 16-16 with the All Blacks to open the way to a first Castle Lager Rugby Championship in a decade, in Wellington six weeks ago.
It means there are 18 changes in personnel to the last selection – the team which defeated Argentina, 24-18 – to complete the Springboks’ domestic programme at Loftus Versfeld two weeks ago.
The only survivors of that match – along with Kolisi – are RG Snyman and Jesse Kriel, who drop down to the bench; Faf de Klerk who returns to the starting line-up, and Frans Steyn, who covers several positions from the bench, for a fifth successive time.
Kolisi replaces Kwagga Smith – who drops out of the 23 altogether – in what has become an otherwise settled combination, appearing in essence for the third time this season. This was also the group which clinched the Championship with a resounding 46-13 victory over the Pumas in Salta.
“I hope this selection will send a strong message that we have the utmost respect for Japan,” said Erasmus.
“Perhaps we made the mistake of complacency against them in the past but we’ve been hammering the message all week that we should never do that again against Japan.
“They’re a smart team of great athletes, playing at home, having won a title in the past month and now desperate to prove something.
“This Test is as big a challenge as any we’ve had this season.”
Japan beat Fiji, the USA and Tonga to claim the Pacific Rugby Championship recently and have been in camp lying in wait for the Springboks, said Erasmus.
The Japanese have a 100 percent record against South Africa, having famously won the only meeting between the teams, 34-32, at Brighton in England during the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
The current Springbok squad has nine survivors of that match-day 23 – Kriel, Handré Pollard, Du Toit, Kolisi, Francois Louw, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Tendai Mtawarira and Trevor Nyakane – and Erasmus said the 2019 squad had discussed that match. Only De Jager will not re-appear on Friday.
“That kind of result can easily happen again if we don’t learn from the past,” he said.
“Our players who were there have held up their hand and said they totally under-estimated Japan. If our mindset isn’t right and we’re looking beyond this game then we’ll play right into Japan’s hands.
“This is a Springbok Test match against a team ranked in the world’s top ten, in their own backyard, and we’ve got to be full-on if we want to win – anything less and we’ll be in trouble.”
Japan beat Italy at home a year ago and also led England at halftime at Twickenham in November 2018, during a sequence of six victories in nine matches since the start of that year which has seen them climb the rankings to equal their highest place ever position of ninth.
Friday’s match kicks off at 19h15 local time at the Kumagaya Rugby Stadium – a 26 500 seater venue which will host matches at the subsequent Rugby World Cup. The match is being screened live on SuperSport (kick-off 12h15 SA time).
The Springbok team to face Japan in Kumagaya:
15. Willie le Roux (Wasps, England), 55 caps – 60 points (12 tries)
14. Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse, France), 9 – 15 (3t)
13. Lukhanyo Am (Cell C Sharks), 8 – 5 (1t)
12. Damian de Allende (DHL Stormers), 39 – 20 (4t)
11. Makazole Mapimpi (Cell C Sharks), 7 – 25 (5t)
10. Handré Pollard (Vodacom Bulls), 41 – 381 (6t, 63c, 72p, 3d)
9. Faf de Klerk (Sale Sharks, England), 24 – 15 (3t)
8. Duane Vermeulen (Vodacom Bulls), 48 – 15 (3t)
7. Pieter-Steph du Toit (DHL Stormers), 49 – 20 (4t)
6. Siya Kolisi (captain, DHL Stormers), 42 – 25 (5t)
5. Franco Mostert (Gloucester, England), 31 – 5 (1t)
4. Eben Etzebeth (DHL Stormers), 78 – 15 (3t)
3. Frans Malherbe (DHL Stormers), 31 – 0
2. Malcolm Marx (Emirates Lions), 26 – 20 (4t)
1. Steven Kitshoff (DHL Stormers), 39 – 5 (1t)
16. Bongi Mbonambi (DHL Stormers), 29 – 20 (4t)
17. Tendai Mtawarira (Cell C Sharks), 110 – 10 (2t)
18. Trevor Nyakane (Vodacom Bulls), 40 – 5 (1t)
19. RG Snyman (Vodacom Bulls), 15 – 0
20. Francois Louw (Bath, England), 68 – 45 (9t)
21. Herschel Jantjies (DHL Stormers), 3 – 15 (3t)
22. Frans Steyn (Montpellier, France), 60 – 132 (10t, 5c, 21p, 3d)
23. Jesse Kriel (Vodacom Bulls), 44 – 60 (12t)
Facts and Stats
· This is the Springboks’ first Test match in Japan and the second time the teams have met.
· Japan were the opponents in the Springboks’ opening match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup in Brighton, a seaside resort in the county of East Sussex, England.
· On Saturday, 19 September, 2015, Japan defeated Jean de Villiers’ Springboks by two points in the dying moments of the match.
· Japan are the only nation that can boast a positive winning percentage against the Springboks, other than New Zealand.
Head to head v Japan
Played: 1; Lost: 1; Points for: 32; Points against: 34; Tries for: 4; Tries against: 3; Win%: 0%
Team records against Japan
· Most points: 32
· Most tries: 4
· Most conversions: 3
· Most penalty goals: 2
Individual records against Japan
· Most points: 7 – Patrick Lambie
· Most tries: 1 – By four players
· Most conversions: 2 – Patrick Lambie
· Most penalty goals: 1 – Patrick Lambie and Handré Pollard
· There are eight players in Friday’s match-23 who also played in the Test in Brighton. They are Jesse Kriel, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Francois Louw, Tendai Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, Siya Kolisi, Handré Pollard and Eben Etzebeth.
· The total Test caps for the Springbok starting line-up is 527.
· There are 183 caps in the backline with 344 caps amongst the forwards. On the bench there are a further 369 caps.
· The average caps per player in the backline are 26, the forwards 43 while the players on the bench average 46.
· The average age of the starting fifteen is 27.
· Pieter-Steph du Toit will play in his 50th Test match.
· The referee is Nic Berry of Australia. This will be his second Test as a referee of a match involving South Africa and the 11th Test of his career.
· The assistant referees are Ben O’Keefe of New Zealand and Graham Cooper of Australia. Shane McDermott (NZ) is the TMO.