BRIGHTON, England, Sept 19 (Reuters) - South Africa must have felt right at home as the sun shone over a green and gold-bedecked Brighton Community Stadium, though a late setback cast a slight shadow over preparations for their Rugby World Cup opener against Japan.
Loose forward Willem Alberts, who felt a twinge in his calf during Friday’s final training session ahead of the Pool B match, was withdrawn from the team only hours before kickoff.
Alberts has struggled with niggling injury over the past year, but his battering ram style was expected to play an important role against the physically smaller Japanese.
Pieter-Steph du Toit, better known as a lock, takes Alberts’ place on the side of the scrum in a Boks team that has been beset by injuries all year but had reported a fully fit squad at the start of the week.
Japan had been forced to make a change of their own on Friday, when Australian-born centre Craig Wing withdrew.
Large numbers of supporters in South African colours paraded through Brighton city centre before making their way to the stadium, vastly outnumbering support for their Asian rivals.
Springbok fans were understandably confident despite Japan coach Eddie Jones’s assertion on the eve of the match that his side has made massive progress and no longer represents “just a training run for the top-tier rugby nations.”
Japan, who host the next World Cup in 2019, are well prepared after an extensive list of international warm-up matches over the past two years.
Their high-tempo game and ferocious tackling is expected to ask more than a few questions of the South African team but few, if any, expect anything but a South Africa victory.
Japan, ever-present at previous Rugby World Cups, have won only once in 24 outings at the finals, while South Africa won the tournament in 1995 and 2007. (Editing by David Goodman)