TOKYO, Japan, Sep 4 – Coach Jamie Joseph insisted that World Cup hosts Japan will have no fear going into their final warm-up against revenge-seeking South Africa after naming a strong team Wednesday.
The last time the teams met, hitherto tournament no-hopers Japan stunned the Springboks 34-32 on the English south coast in their opening game of the 2015 World Cup — an upset of such seismic proportions a movie about it has just been released.
Adamant there will be no sequel, Joseph’s opposite number, South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus, named a full-strength side for Friday’s encounter in Kumagaya, north of Tokyo.
The return to the starting line-up of Springbok captain Siya Kolisi after injury is the only change to the team that drew 16-16 with the All Blacks in Wellington six weeks ago on the way to capturing their first Rugby Championship since 2009.
“We’re elated that coach Erasmus has picked what I think is their strongest line-up,” Joseph said after countering with a starting fifteen led by talismanic captain Michael Leitch, now recovered from a lengthy groin problem.
“It shows respect and it gives our players something to look forward to. I’ve faced a lot of questions this last week about if I think it’s a risky game before the World Cup but unless we play the best teams, we’ll never get a true measure of where we are.”
Joseph, who took over from Eddie Jones after the last World Cup, has set a target of reaching the quarter-finals for the first time and the Brave Blossoms limbered up by winning the Pacific Nations Cup over the summer.
– ‘A step up’ –
“Obviously this is a step up,” said the former All Black, who has left out experienced hooker Shota Horie to give him time to recover from a neck issue, replacing him with Atsushi Sakate in a meaty front row also including Uwe Helu and Luke Thompson.
“It will be a physical World Cup,” added Joseph, whose side kick things off against Russia in Tokyo on September 20 before further Pool A games against Ireland, Samoa and Scotland.
“That’s part of the reason we wanted to play South Africa. It’s the final page in our preparation, but it’s not a must-win game — the next game (against Russia) is a must-win. It’s about performance.”
Just six players remain from the Japan team who toppled the Boks four years ago, while the visitors are virtually unrecognisable from the last World Cup.
“Last time we played against South Africa, they were just so above us,” said Leitch, who famously defied Jones by refusing a late penalty kick that would have drawn that game in Brighton to go for the game-winning try.
“But human against human, we’re quick, we have power and we can create confidence to play against South Africa.”
– All Black clash –
Joseph warned that the Springboks, the world’s fifth-ranked team who face treble-chasing New Zealand in a blockbuster World Cup Pool B opener in Yokohama on September 21, would come out firing.
“We are under no illusions how tough it will be,” he said. “We are playing probably the biggest lineout in world rugby and they’re preparing to play the All Blacks.
“But Russia have a very big pack, Samoa have a strong scrum,” added the 49-year-old, whose Japan side have become a regular fixture in the world’s top 10.
“Ireland and Scotland are also very aggressive — we have to contend with that pressure.”
William Tupou; Kotaro Matsushima, Timothy Lafaele, Ryoto Nakamura, Kenki Fukuoka; Yu Tamura, Kaito Shigeno; Amanaki Mafi, Pieter Labuschagne, Michael Leitch (captain); Uwe Helu, Luke Thompson; Koo Ji-won, Atsushi Sakate, Keita Inagaki
Replacements: Takuya Kitade, Isileli Nakajima, Asaeli Ai Valu, James Moore, Yoshitaka Tokunaga, Yutaka Nagare, Rikiya Matsuda, Ataata Moeakiola
Coach: Jamie Joseph (NZL)