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Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus takes calculated gamble against Japan

Springboks head coach Rassie Erasmus.
Springboks head coach Rassie Erasmus.
Image: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus has taken a calculated gamble by naming a full strength team to face Japan in Kumagaya on Friday‚ the Boks’ final match before rugby World Cup 2019.

Siya Kolisi will lead the team for the first time this season after missing the Rugby Championships due to a knee injury while Pieter-Steph du Toit will earn his 50th cap.

Kwagga Smith makes way for the skipper in an otherwise unchanged team that drew with New Zealand in Wellington in July.

Just has he did with success in Wellington‚ Erasmus is backing the so called ‘first team’ to deliver a strong performance against the World Cup hosts and build momentum for their crunch September 21 opener against the All Blacks in Yokohama.

The flip side is that if the ‘first’ team doesn’t perform‚ it could have a hugely negative impact on the team’s confidence and mentality before that crucial Pool B clash against the All Blacks.

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In Wellington‚ the Boks earned a 16-16 draw after Erasmus sent the bulk of his first team to New Zealand more than a week in advance of the match.

The tactic paid off as the ‘second’ team beat Australia 35-17 at Ellis Park while the others were preparing in Wellington.

That gave the Boks a confidence boost which they carried to Salta by thrashing Argentina 46-13 to claim the Rugby Championship title for the first time in a decade.

There are 18 changes in personnel to the last selection‚ the team which defeated Argentina 24-18‚ to complete the Springboks’ domestic programme at Loftus Versfeld two weeks ago. The only survivors of that match‚ along with Kolisi‚ are RG Snyman and Jesse Kriel‚ who drop down to the bench‚ Faf de Klerk who returns to the starting line-up‚ and Frans Steyn‚ who covers several positions from the bench‚ for a fifth successive time.

“I hope this selection will send a strong message that we have the utmost respect for Japan‚” said Erasmus.

“Perhaps we made the mistake of complacency against them in the past but we’ve been hammering the message all week that we should never do that again against Japan.

“They’re a smart team of great athletes‚ playing at home‚ having won a title won in the past month and now desperate to prove something.

“This Test is as big a challenge as any we’ve had this season.”

Japan beat Fiji‚ the USA and Tonga to claim the Pacific Rugby Championship recently and have been in camp lying in wait for the Springboks‚ said Erasmus.

The Japanese have a 100 percent record against South Africa‚ having famously won the only meeting between the teams‚ 34-32‚ at Brighton in England during the 2015 Rugby World Cup. The current Springbok squad has nine survivors of that match-day 23 – Kriel‚ Handré Pollard‚ Du Toit‚ Kolisi‚ Francois Louw‚ Eben Etzebeth‚ Lood de Jager‚ Tendai Mtawarira and Trevor Nyakane – and Erasmus said the 2019 squad had discussed that match.

Only De Jager will not re-appear on Friday. “That kind of result can easily happen again if we don’t learn from the past‚” he said.

“Our players who were there have held up their hand and said they totally under-estimated Japan. If our mindset isn’t right and we’re looking beyond this game then we’ll play right into Japan’s hands.

“This is a Springbok Test match against a team ranked in the world’s top ten‚ in their own backyard‚ and we’ve got to be full-on if we want to win – anything less and we’ll be in trouble.”

Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux‚ 14 Cheslin Kolbe‚ 13 Lukhanyo Am‚ 12 Damian de Allende‚ 11 Makazole Mapimpi‚ 10 Handré Pollard‚ 9 Faf de Klerk‚ 8 Duane Vermeulen‚ 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit‚ 6 Siya Kolisi (capt)‚ 5 Franco Mostert‚ 4 Eben Etzebeth‚ 3 Frans Malherbe‚ 2 Malcolm Marx‚ 1 Steven Kitshoff. Reserves: 16 Bongi Mbonambi‚ 17 Tendai Mtawarira‚ 18 Trevor Nyakane‚ 19 RG Snyman‚ 20 Francois Louw‚ 21 Herschel Jantjies‚ 22 Frans Steyn‚ 23 Jesse Kriel.