South Africa’s final warm-up match, against Japan in Kumagaya on Friday, is a potential banana skin.
Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus cautioned against expecting an easy win against the tournament hosts, despite the Boks being unbeaten in 2019 and the current Rugby Championship titleholders.
Japan, affectionately known as the Cherry Blossoms or Brave Blossoms, caused one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history when they beat the Springboks in 2015.
Coached by New Zealander Jamie Joseph, Japan has been building up for the tournament since February – with most of their players in a national training camp, rather than playing for the Sunwolves in Super Rugby.
As a result, Japan equalled their best-ever World Ranking in winning the Pacific Nations Cup, Joseph’s side now ninth.
Erasmus sounded a cautionary note ahead of Friday’s outing.
“We have a tricky one in the first one, which is [the warm-up match] against Japan,” the Bok coach said.
“A lot of people will think it is an easy hurdle to get over.
“They are almost ambushing us on that side.
“They are really well organised.
“This is an away Test in front of a full house against a Japanese team that beat us last time [2015 World Cup].
“We are a bit nervous about that first one.”
Erasmus‚ although keen to give players who are short of game time a run against Japan‚ also wants to use the occasion as a dress rehearsal for their crucial tournament opener against New Zealand two weeks later.
“Getting guys like [captain] Siya [Kolisi] 100 percent match ready – get him thorough 80 minutes,” he said, when asked about his goals for the game.
“There are a few other guys, like Frans Steyn – who we slowly got into the mix
. [We must] get him through a full 80 minutes, if we have to.”
He spoke about getting rid of some injury niggles and some game-specific things they want to rectify.
“The scrums were better,” He said of their progress in the Rugby Championship and a warm-up match against Argentina in Pretoria last month, adding: “[But] the line-outs we have to improve a little bit.
“[There are] a lot of boxes we still have to tick.
“The Japan game will help us to achieve that.”
However, there is an obvious risk of injuries.
“If we get injuries in that game, it will be very close to the tournament.”
He revealed that the first-choice team will start against Japan, as a trial run ahead of the crunch encounter with the All Blacks a fortnight later.
The Bok squad of 31 players and 20 management headed to Japan this past Friday and had their first training run on Sunday.
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