KUMAGAYA – South Africa head into their final Rugby World Cup warm-up match against hosts Japan on Friday with not only the upcoming tournament on their minds but also the embarrassing loss they suffered the last time the teams met.
At the 2015 World Cup, Japan caused one of the biggest upsets in tournament history with their 34-32 victory over the Springboks in England.
Although both sides have said the match that kicks off at 7:15 p.m. (1015 GMT) in the World Cup host city of Kumagaya, which is north of Tokyo, is tournament preparation, the events of four years ago in Brighton have dominated the build-up.
“You can definitely see this (Japan) is a much different team, much fitter, much stronger (than four years ago),” South African captain Siya Kolisi said on Thursday.
“It is going to be a challenge, a whole new challenge but we are also a different team at the same time. For both teams this is going to be something new, something different with a whole new coaching staff.”
Siya Kolisi (c) during the Springboks Captain's Run at the Rugby Stadium, Saitama prefecture, Kumagaya, on Thursday. Photo: Steve Haag Sports/ Courtesy of Hollywoodbets
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Both teams have tasted success this year, with South Africa claiming the Rugby Championship for the first time in a decade while Japan clinched the Pacific Nations Cup with a perfect record and there could be a major clash of styles on show.
Japan have said they would like to keep the ball in hand as much as possible and stretch the Springboks across the field.
Kolisi said his team were aware of that and would instead try and turn the match towards their traditional strengths.
“We are going to make sure we stick to our strengths; our forward pack is quite strong so we are going to have to make sure we stand up,” said the flanker, who has beaten a race against injury to make the World Cup squad.
“We know they are a very fit team who like to keep the ball in hand. They have said they would like to keep the ball in hand as much as they can this weekend and keep the ball in play.”
For Japan, speed is the name of the game.
“All of our opponents at the World Cup are going to be bigger than us so our point of difference of how we want to play the game is going to be based around speed and how fast we can play the game,” said assistant coach Tony Brown.
“We think we have a style of game that can put South Africa under pressure.
“If we can do that ... who knows? Hopefully a repeat of four years ago.”
Japan coach Jamie Joseph during his team announcement. Photo: @JRFURugby on Twitter
Japan open the World Cup against Russia on Sept. 20 in Tokyo before South Africa face old rivals New Zealand the following day in Yokohama.