Coach Jamie Joseph insists Japan will have no fear after Wednesday naming a strong side to face revenge-seeking South Africa in the World Cup hosts’ final warm-up.
The last time the teams met, hitherto tournament no-hopers Japan stunned the Springboks 34-32 on the English south coast in their opening game of the 2015 World Cup — an upset of such seismic proportions a movie about it has just been released.
Adamant there will be no sequel, Joseph’s opposite number, South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus, named a full-strength side for Friday’s encounter in Kumagaya, north of Tokyo.
The return to the starting line-up of Springbok captain Siya Kolisi after injury is the only change to the team that drew 16-16 with the All Blacks in Wellington six weeks ago on the way to capturing their first Rugby Championship since 2009.
“We’re elated that coach Erasmus has picked what I think is their strongest line-up,” Joseph said after countering with a starting fifteen led by talismanic captain Michael Leitch, now recovered from a lengthy groin problem.
“It shows respect and it gives our players something to look forward to. I’ve faced a lot of questions this last week about if I think it’s a risky game before the World Cup but unless we play the best teams, we’ll never get a true measure of where we are.”
Joseph, who took over from Eddie Jones after the last World Cup, has set a target of reaching the quarter-finals for the first time and the Brave Blossoms limbered up by winning the Pacific Nations Cup over the summer.
“Obviously this is a step up,” said the former All Black, who has left out experienced hooker Shota Horie to give him time to fully recover from a neck issue.
“It will be a physical World Cup,” added Joseph, whose side kick things off against Russia in Tokyo on September 20 before further Pool A games against Ireland, Samoa and Scotland.
“That’s part of the reason we wanted to play South Africa. They’ve gone from strength to strength, drawing with the All Blacks and beating them last year.
“It’s the final page in our preparation, but it’s not a must-win game — the next game (against Russia) is a must-win. It’s about performance. If we perform we will create a winning opportunity and that’s our focus.”
Joseph warned that the Springboks, drawn in Pool B alongside world champions New Zealand, Italy, Canada and Namibia, would be all business this week.
“We know it’s going to be very hard,” he said. “They’re preparing to play the All Blacks.
“But we have to think about the opposition we’re coming up against in the World Cup,” added the 49-year-old.
“Russia has a very big pack, Samoa have a very strong scrum. Certainly Ireland and Scotland are very aggressive — we have to contend with that pressure.”
Japan: William Tupou; Kotaro Matsushima, Timothy Lafaele, Ryoto Nakamura, Kenki Fukuoka; Yu Tamura, Kaito Shigeno; Amanaki Mafi, Lappies Labuschagne, Michael Leitch (c); Uwe Helu, Luke Thompson; Koo Ji-won, Atsushi Sakate, Keita Inagaki. Bench: Takuya Kitade, Isileli Nakajima, Asaeli Ai Valu, James Moore, Yoshitaka Tokunaga, Yutaka Nagare, Rikiya Matsuda, Ataata Moeakiola