Preview: Japan v South Africa

Date published: September 18 2015

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South Africa will win their opening 2015 Rugby World Cup clash against Japan at the Brighton Community Stadium on Saturday.

This is the first time these nations will meet in a Test match but there is no doubt over the final outcome.

Even though Japan have named their strongest side – and their oldest ever Test line-up – they will consider finishing within 20 points of the Springboks a victory.

That is not to say that the Boks are underestimating their opponents this weekend, and naming their most experienced side ever is a sign of respect.

But no one expects the Brave Blossoms to be able to match the two-time world champions in any department, bar the speed at which they play the game.

The Japanese scrum has improved immensely in recent years, but even there they are likely to be dominated by a Springbok pack boasting 488 caps.

For South Africa, who sit a full ten places above Japan in the world rankings, this will be more than a training exercise.

After a year punctuated by poor results, this is an opportunity to build confidence and momentum ahead of next week's crunch battle with Samoa in Birmingham. It will also be a convenient chance for a handful of players, like Francois Louw and Fourie du Preez, to make their returns from injury layoffs.

It is also an opportunity for certain players to push for a place in the first-choice team. Pat Lambie has a further chance to show his value in the 10 jersey after a strong game last time out against Argentina while the likes of Zane Kirchner, Lwazi Mvovo and Jesse Kriel will want to state their respective cases for inclusion.

Japan coach Eddie Jones' experience of working with South Africa will give the Brave Blossoms some insight into how to take on their opponents but by the same token, veteran Springbok scrum-half Fourie du Preez, an influential member of the Boks' brains trust has played under Jones in Japanese club rugby and is very familiar with the Australian's approach to the game, as are the surviving members of South Africa's 2007 RWC winning team, for whom he was a consultant.

Overall Tournament Betting Odds (Betting Expert)

A measure of the gap between the sides is their respective results against the Robbie Deans-coached World XV this year. While South Africa won 46-10 in their first game of the year in Cape Town in July, Japan were beaten 45-20 by the invitational side in Tokyo last month.

If South Africa are patient, stick to the patterns and play to their strengths without trying to force the issue too soon, they should cruise to a handsome victory.

However, the result will not be important for Bok coach Heyneke Meyer, who will want to see his team maintain their intensity for all 80 minutes. It could get ugly.

Players to watch:

For Japan: Highlanders scrum-half Fumiaki Tanaka is one of Japan's few players to regularly feature at Super Rugby level. Tanaka is a top-class player who has benefited greatly from working under Aaron Smith, arguably the world's best player in his position. Tanaka's fast hands and feet and his ability to keep the tempo high will be key to Japan's approach as they try to avoid an arm wrestle.

For South Africa: He is only likely to feature in the second-half but Meyer will be anxious to see how Fourie du Preez performs in his first Test in June 2014. The veteran scrum-half once set the benchmark for the world in his position, but after such a long absence from the highest level, SA fans will be eager to see him get back up to speed quickly.

Head-to-head: With both teams looking to play an up-tempo game, the number eights Hendrik Tui and Schalk Burger will have important, although very different roles. While the Boks will look to Burger to use his strength to provide go-forward ball as he smashes into the defensive wall, Tui – who played on the wing last weekend – will use his pace to move the ball away from the South African heavyweights.

Previous results: N/A

Prediction: Japan have not won a RWC game since beating Zimbabwe in 1991, and they'll have a wait a little longer. South Africa by 40 points.

The teams:

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.
Replacements: 16 Takeshi Kazu, 17 Keita Inagaki, 18 Hiroshi Yamashita, 19 Shinya Makabe, 20 Amanaki Mafi. 21 Atsushi Hiwasa, 22 Harumichi Tatekawa, 23 Karne Hesketh.

South Africa: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 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 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 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.

Date: Saturday, September 16
Venue: Brighton Community Stadium, Brighton
Kick-off: 16:45 local
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: JP Doyle (England), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)

By Ross Hastie

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