The Springbok forwards must set the tone at the collisions and breakdowns in the World Cup warm-up match against Japan in Saitama on Friday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
How did the Boks lose to Japan in Brighton four years ago?
Japan arrived at the 2015 World Cup fit and ready to go the distance against some of the best-conditioned teams in the game. Their tactics were spot on in Brighton, and after every ruck two or three defenders were deployed to stop the Bok ball-carriers from building up momentum.
The Boks battled to adjust as the contest wore on. They were penalised heavily, and ace goal-kicker Ayumu Goramaru converted those opportunities into points for Japan.
Only six players who starred for Japan in Brighton four years ago will feature against the Boks this Friday. As coach Jamie Joseph has said: it’s a new Japan team with a new coach and plenty of new ideas. Expectations should be tempered.
Eight South Africans who played against Japan in 2015 have been named in the match-day squad for the contest in Saitama. It’s fair to say that the Boks have changed a great deal over the past four years. Since Rassie Erasmus took the coaching reins in early 2018, they have moved towards a more versatile approach.
Their adaptability will be put to the test this Friday. As Erasmus and a few of the Boks who have played in Japan before have pointed out, the heat and humidity will take some getting used to.
This game will provide the Boks with a great opportunity to adjust to the local conditions before the World Cup tournament commences in two weeks’ time. On the other hand, the visitors will be determined to win the one-off and go into their global campaign with confidence and momentum.
The Boks have enjoyed a good season to date. They beat the Wallabies in Johannesburg, drew with the All Blacks in New Zealand and then downed the Pumas in Argentina to claim their first major title – the Rugby Championship – in 10 years.
And yet they will have no reason to be complacent this Friday. Erasmus has selected his best available side for the fixture against Japan. Several of the players have spoken about the team’s desire to make a statement.
It’s not uncommon to see tier-one nations targeting their tier-two counterparts at the set pieces. One would expect the Boks to punish Japan at the scrums and to generate a lot of momentum from the lineouts.
Their work at the breakdown will be under scrutiny, though. This was a problem area in Brighton four years ago.
The Boks must work hard to clear the rucks and ensure that their ball-carriers receive quick ball. Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen will play their first Test as a combination this season. The Bok forwards must settle quickly to provide a platform for the backs.
A stop-start game may suit Japan. Despite the conditions, the Boks will want to play this game at pace.
Erasmus may be thinking ahead to the opening World Cup fixture against the All Blacks. It will be interesting to see how he manages the bench in the second stanza, and whether he gives a few other players and combinations a decent run – regardless of the scoreboard at that stage of the game.
Japan – 15 William Tupou, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Kaito Shigeno, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Michael Leitch (c), 5 Uwe Helu, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Koo Ji-won, 2 Atsushi Sakate, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Subs: 16 Takuya Kitade, 17 Isileli Nakajima, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 James Moore, 20 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 21 Yutaka Nagare, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23 Ataata Moeakiola.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Jesse Kriel.
Photo: LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images