The Springboks will beat Japan by an emphatic margin in Brighton this Saturday if they back their strengths and systems, writes JON CARDINELLI in London.
Heyneke Meyer believes he’s selected the best possible match-day squad for the specific battle against Japan. He’s not wrong.
Consider who Meyer has backed to start this weekend. Zane Kirchner, Lwazi Mvovo, Ruan Pienaar and even Pat Lambie are not first-choice players. And that may be the point.
Meyer is asking these players to prove him wrong, to do as much damage as they can in the first 60 minutes of the contest. Meanwhile, Meyer has included Fourie du Preez, Handré Pollard and JP Pietersen on the bench. The plan is to deploy them in the final quarter when Japan are tiring and battling to live with the pace and fitness of their tier-one opponents.
The All Blacks put 54 points past Japan in 2013. Perhaps Meyer wants the Boks to surpass that number. Perhaps he’s selected a team that will stay hungry for 80 minutes, not one that rests on its laurels after racing to a 20-0 lead in the first quarter.
This was always going to be a lose-lose scenario for Meyer. Nobody is going to commend the Boks for thrashing Japan, a side ranked 13th in the world. That said an unconvincing and inconsistent performance will leave them open to criticism, and dent their confidence ahead of the more important pool clash against Samoa.,
The Boks need to lay down a marker in the first game of their campaign. They have to dominate Japan at the set pieces and collisions.
There’s been so much talk this past week about the Boks' attacking intent and how they plan to lift the tempo at the Brighton Community Stadium on Saturday. They don’t, however, need to change much in their game plan to claim a convincing win against Japan.
A consistent 80-minute performance will stand them in good stead ahead of a more testing game against Samoa. Eben Etzebeth and Duane Vermeulen should be fit for that clash, and Meyer should look to further bolster the starting side by reinstating Du Preez, Pollard, Damian de Allende, Pietersen and Willie le Roux.
The Boks don’t need to be overly expansive in the fixture against Japan. They need to be more accurate at the breakdown, pressuring the Japanese into errors and penalties. And when they secure turnovers, they must translate opportunities into points.
Du Plessis wears a No 2 on his back, but plays like an out-and-out fetcher at the breakdown. The Boks do possess a designated openside in the squad now that Francois Louw is fit. If Du Plessis and Louw exert their influence at the ruck, the Boks will win turnovers. They will create more counter-attacking chances that will ultimately lead to tries.
Du Plessis certainly won’t be wanting for motivation. He played off the bench in the 2007 World Cup, and was the second-string hooker at the 2011 tournament. This year, from the very first game against lowly Japan, Du Plessis will be looking to prove a point. And that may have a galvanising effect on the rest of the team.
DU PLESSIS’S STATS THAT MATTER
73 – Tests for the Boks.
9 – Test tries (the most by a Springbok hooker).
9 – World Cup matches to date (eight times as a substitute, and once as a starter).
5 – Turnovers made in the Rugby Championship (Rank 2).
HEAD TO HEAD
This is the teams' first meeting in Test rugby
Springboks – 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Lwazi Mvovo, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 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 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Fourie du Preez, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 JP Pietersen.
Japan – 15 Ayumu Goromaru, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Male Sau, 12 Craig Wing, 11 Kotaro Matsushima, 10 Kosei Ono, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Hendrik Tui, 7 Michael Broadhurst, 6 Michael Leitch, 5 Hitoshi Ono, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Masataka Mikami.
Subs: 16 Takeshi Kazu, 17 Keita Inagaki, 18 Hiroshi Yamashita, 19 Shinya Makabe, 20 Amanaki Mafi, 21 Atsushi Hiwasa, 22 Harumichi Tatekawa, 23 Karne Hesketh.
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: JP Doyle (England), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images