EASTBOURNE, England (Reuters) - A wary South Africa are unsure of what lies in wait for them when they take on Japan but are conscious of the need for a bright start in their opening Rugby World Cup game in Brighton on Saturday.
It is a first meeting between the two countries and for the twice winners a trip into the unknown, leaving them without any of the expected swagger ahead of the Pool B match at the Brighton Community Stadium.
While the outcome is not in doubt — Japan have a single victory in 24 matches in seven World Cups — the Springboks have spent the last days warning everyone their respect for Japan and what they expect will be a different approach.
“For a start the contact point is a half to a metre lower. They do the chop tackle which we are not very familiar with; there are only one of two players in the whole Super Rugby competition who tackle below the knee but it’s the other way round in Japan,” said South African loose forward Schalk Burger, who plays for Suntory Sungoliath.
“Secondly the speed of the game, they like to play at a high tempo.”
Fourie du Preez, the other Springbok playing club rugby in Tokyo, added that Japan’s pace make them “ruck-to-ruck probably the best in the world”.
But the Boks will hoping to start momentum rolling as they begin what they hope will be a seven-game odyssey to the final next month.
“Each of these games is like a final,” coach Heyneke Meyer said.
The match against Japan is also a chance to bring back several players after injury, try out new combinations and build continuity.
Japan have prepared extensively for this World Cup, driven by the expertise of former Australia coach Eddie Jones, with an expansive list of warm-up internationals.
They beat a depleted Wales two years ago and Italy last year.
But South Africa present a much higher challenge with Japan hoping they can at least leave a positive impression.
“The most important thing will be whether we can believe in ourselves enough,” captain Toshiaki Hirose said.
Jones has made changes from the side that beat Georgia 13-10 in their final warm-up.
Akihito Yamada replaces Yoshikazu Fujita on the wing and Hendrik Tui moves from the wing to number eight. Flyhalf Harumichi Tatekawa drops to the bench in place of Kosei Ono, and Kensuke Hatakeyama replaces Hiroshi Yamashita, who is named as a replacement.
South Africa: 15-Zane Kirchner, 14-Bryan Habana, 13-Jesse Kriel, 12-Jean de Villiers (captain), 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-Handre Pollard, 23-JP Pietersen.
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
Editing by Ed Osmond; firstname.lastname@example.org; +447979846152; Reuters Messaging: Reuters Messaging: email@example.com