The most experienced Springbok side ever is bracing itself for a different kind of challenge when South Africa faces Japan in their 2015 Rugby World Cup opener in Brighton on Saturday.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer on Wednesday named Jean de Villiers as captain of the national side for this very important match against a team South Africa has never played.
The starting team boasts a combined total of 880 Test caps, eclipsing the previous most experienced side (836 caps), which played in the Springboks’ last Rugby World Cup match against Australia in Wellington, New Zealand in 2011.
The selection shows six changes from the side that beat Argentina in Buenos Aires a month ago. De Villiers’s inclusion at inside centre is the only change to the backline, while Francois Louw returns at the side of the scrum.
The tight five has been reshuffled, with Lood de Jager and Jannie du Plessis both back from injury, while Bismarck du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira will start yet again.
On the bench, Coenie Oosthuizen, Fourie du Preez and JP Pietersen return from injury, while Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane and DHL Stormers ace Siya Kolisi have also been included amongst the substitutes.
“We’ve decided to go with some form of continuity as it’s important to get a good start in the tournament, but we also wanted to bring back a number of players who have recently recovered from injury,” said Meyer.
“It’s great to see Jean, Francois, Lood, Jannie, Coenie, Fourie and JP back in action, and while we probably could’ve played Duane Vermeulen and Eben Etzebeth, in the end we decided to give them another week to fully recover from their injuries.
“The backline is almost unchanged as we also decided to reward the players who did so well in Buenos Aires. There will in all likelihood be changes again next week but for now these players deserve another opportunity to stake a claim.”
Meyer said Saturday’s Test will be a great occasion against an opponent that will challenge the Springboks on different levels.
“We play against the big teams from the southern and northern hemisphere quite often and with them it’s mostly a case of you know what to expect,” said Meyer.
“But Japan will pose a different threat. They have a very astute coach in Eddie Jones and our players who play in Japan have warned us to expect a very high tempo game and good, low tackling to stop momentum.
“The players know that nothing but their best will be good enough on Saturday and we realise the importance of starting the World Cup on a good note, but having said that, we also know that there is no such thing as an easy game in rugby anymore and they will be just as fired up as us.
“Decision-making will be key on Saturday and it’s up the players to know when and how to vary our play. We can play tactically if we have to, but we can also attack with ball in hand and I’d like to see a good blend of that this weekend.”
The Springbok team to face Japan in Brighton is as follows:
15. Zane Kirchner (Leinster) – 30 caps
14. Bryan Habana (Toulon) – 110
13. Jesse Kriel (Vodacom Bulls) – 4
12. Jean de Villiers (DHL Stormers – captain) – 107
11. Lwazi Mvovo (Cell C Sharks) – 13
10. Pat Lambie (Cell C Sharks) – 44
9. Ruan Pienaar (Ulster) – 84
8. Schalk Burger (DHL Stormers) – 79
7. Willem Alberts (Cell C Sharks) – 33
6. Francois Louw (Bath) – 36
5. Victor Matfield (Vodacom Bulls) – 123
4. Lood de Jager (Toyota Cheetahs) – 12
3. Jannie du Plessis (Cell C Sharks) – 64
2. Bismarck du Plessis (Cell C Sharks) – 73
1. Tendai Mtawarira (Cell C Sharks) – 68
16. Adriaan Strauss (Vodacom Bulls) – 48
17. Trevor Nyakane (Vodacom Bulls) – 16
18. Coenie Oosthuizen (Toyota Cheetahs) – 21
19. Pieter-Steph du Toit (Cell C Sharks) – 4
20. Siya Kolisi (DHL Stormers) – 11
21. Fourie du Preez (Suntory) – 70
22. Handré Pollard (Vodacom Bulls) – 13
23. JP Pietersen (Cell C Sharks) – 60
STATS AND FACTS:
– For the first time in Springbok Rugby history South Africa will meet Japan in a Test match. Japan have qualified for all previous tournaments since 1987, while South Africa’s inaugural tournament was in 1995.
– In the previous seven tournaments Japan played 24 RWC matches with only one win, against Zimbabwe in 1991, and two draws.
– South Africa have played in 29 RWC matches, with 25 wins for a win percentage of 86.2%. This is the highest winning percentage of all 20 teams involved in this tournament.
– The total number Test caps for the Springbok starting line-up is 880, the most experienced Springbok side ever. The previous most experienced side (836 caps) played in the RWC quarter-final against Australia in 2011 in Wellington, New Zealand.
– There are 392 caps in the backline with 488 caps amongst the forwards. On the bench there are a further 243 caps.
– The following players will make their RWC debut: Lood de Jager, Zane Kirchner, Jesse Kriel and Lwazi Mvovo, while Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi, Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen, Handré Pollard and Adriaan Strauss may also make their RWC debut if they get game-time off the bench.
– Bryan Habana will extend his record as the most-capped Springbok wing, with 109 caps in this position. If he scores a try he will extend his own record of 59 Test tries for South Africa. Bryan also holds the Springbok record for most career tries (10) in RWC tournaments.
– In the RWC of 2007 Bryan scored four tries against Samoa – should he repeat that feat against Japan he will be the new world record holder for most career tries as a wing. The current world record holder is Daisuke Ohata from Japan with 62 tries in the wing position.
– Jean de Villiers will extend his record as the most-capped Springbok centre, with 92 caps in this position and will captain South Africa for the 36th time. Together with Gary Teichmann, he will be the second most-capped Springbok captain.
– Ruan Pienaar is co-holder of the RWC record for most conversions (6) in a Test match.
– Schalk Burger is South Africa’s most-capped Springbok flank (73) and this match against Japan will be his 80th Test. He is also the Springbok record holder for most tries as a flank (12) as well as a forward (14).
– Bismarck du Plessis is the Springbok record holder for most tries (9) in Tests as a hooker.
– The front row of Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck and Tendai Mtawarira will appear in their record 19th Test starting line-up.
– Jannie and Bismarck will play their 46th Test match together. Jannie and Tendai will play in their 37th Test as props in the starting line-up.
– The referee is Jerome Garcès of France. It will be his sixth Test involving South Africa. Of the previous five South Africa have won three and lost two. His last appearance was in July 2015 against New Zealand in Johannesburg which the Boks lost 20-27.
– The venue is the Brighton Community Stadium, which was constructed at a cost of £93m. The Stadium was officially opened on July 30, 2011 and has a capacity of 30,750 seats.