Springboks wary of Canada catching them cold in final pool match
The Big Picture
It is all about the five points on offer when the Springboks take on Canada in their final Pool B match. Earn them and Siya Kolisi’s team are guaranteed a place in the quarter-finals, which would preserve their record of having made the last eight in every Rugby World Cup they have participated in since their first one in 1995.
The slightly tricky part for the Boks is managing the short turnaround from their last match, against Italy on Friday in Shizuoka.
Coach Rassie Erasmus has tried to deal with that issue by including just two regulars in his starting line-up – Kolisi and centre Damian de Allende, above in training – but the fact remains that the squad as a whole help to prepare the team, and it is tough to get up for another match mentally and physically so quickly.
"Overall, what World Rugby put into the Tier 2 nations is really great, and we’ve put a lot of time into Canada because if you take your eye off them, there might be one or two little errors and they get a sniff (some momentum)," Erasmus said.
This will be the first match between the two teams since 2000, when Boks coach Erasmus played in the South Africa team that won 51-18 in East London.
There is the danger that they could underestimate Canada, who have conceded 111 points in their two matches against Italy and New Zealand.
The Canucks have had multiple opportunities to score in the previous games, but have not been able to see that reflected on the scoreboard.
A 48-7 defeat to Italy was followed by a 63-0 rout where they struggled to match the speed and endurance of the New Zealand team.
Their biggest match of the tournament will be against Namibia on Sunday, as that is their chance of a victory at Rugby World Cup 2019.
"For any Tier 1 nation, playing the All Blacks and the Springboks in one week is a challenge. I’ve done that with Wales and I know, from personal experience, it takes a toll on the players," said Canada assistant coach Huw Wiltshire.
"We are hugely respectful of the South African team. Themselves and the Blacks are probably the two best sides at the minute in the tournament.
"Two things you can't defend against in rugby and that’s speed and power, and both those countries have got it across their teams, across the park and across their whole squads."
Form guide (most recent matches first)
South Africa: WWLWW
Played 2 – South Africa 2W
In the spotlight
Damian Willemse arrived in Japan on Wednesday as an injury replacement for Jesse Kriel, and it was a moment of sheer joy for the 21-year-old from Cape Town, who had missed most of the season with a knee injury.
Erasmus has said that Willemse would have made the World Cup squad if he wasn’t injured, and now the utility back has an opportunity to show the world just what he is capable of.
Willemse is a thrilling talent who is able to play at fly-half, inside-centre and full-back, and it is at the latter that he will make his World Cup debut against Canada.
Willemse is in the same category as Cheslin Kolbe, with his dancing feet, ability to cut defences and steadiness under the high ball.
He will form a potentially explosive back-three combination with Warrick Gelant and S’bu Nkosi against the Canucks.
"We haven’t played together before – I think I only played with S’bu in the England test match (in 2018). Looking forward to playing with Warrick. Both of them are good finishers, so hopefully I can get the ball to them, and they can do their magic," Willemse said.
It will also be a day to remember for Canada left-wing DTH van der Merwe, who will be playing against the country of his birth and will also make his 15th Rugby World Cup appearance – the most by any Canadian player.
Van der Merwe has an excellent record of 38 tries in 60 test matches, and the 33-year-old would like nothing more than scoring against his former countrymen. If he does so, he will become one of only four players to score at least one try at four different Rugby World Cups.
"It’s something special. I’ve looked forward to my whole career to play against South Africa," said Van der Merwe, who still has some family in Cape Town.
"They have got a physical pack that’s complemented with a real speedy backline. For us, it’s a great opportunity just to measure ourselves against one of the best teams in the world. "