IRB Rugby WC 2015: South Africa vs Japan Preview

Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!

SA vs Japan | Saturday 19 September | Brighton Community Centre, Brighton | 17:45

With the Springbok squad renowned for their colossal frames and most of the Japanese side two missed meals shy of being declared undernourished,  it will be big versus small when these two nations meet at the Brighton Community Centre on Saturday evening.

While researching the encounter I found one of the quirkiest stats in world rugby. While the All Blacks and Australians have played against the Brave Blossoms on multiple occasions, the Springboks are yet to meet the powerhouse of Asian rugby in an IRB sanctioned match. Despite the two sides never meeting in competitive action they do share a few things in common. The Japanese domestic league, aptly named the Top League, has seen numerous South Africans, including veteran Fourie Du Preez, turn out for the teams involved in it. Both sides have been coached by Eddie Jones; the current Japanese mentor was part of the Springbok coaching staff at the 2007 World Cup. Jones will also be saying “sayonara” to his Japanese squad at the end of the tournament as he takes on the head coaching role at the Stormers.

It will be interesting to see the strategies the two veteran coaches employ for this one. Jones would normally look to spoil the Springbok ball at the breakdown and slow the game up, but with his side playing a fast-paced game in recent years, he may want to limit the numbers at the breakdown, so as to have more running options when the ball is turned over.

IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 Fixtures

To Win (80mins)
South Africa  1/1000
Draw  45/1
Japan  40/1

South Africa  (-43.5) 9/10
Japan  (+43.5) 9/10

South Africa
While the Springbok camp was all smiles at their send off last Friday, in all honesty, they will probably be relieved to have left the Republic. Although the ‘Boks were poor during the Rugby Championship, it wasn’t as atrocious as media houses around the country portrayed. While there’s no excuse for that forgettable eighty minute performance against the Argentines in Durban, the South Africans did produce some quality rugby during the tournament. The first forty minutes against the Australians in the opener comes to mind as well as the twenty minute period before half-time against the All Blacks in Johannesburg.

The media aren’t the only ones who have shown a tendency to overreact in the wake of defeat. The South African public, myself included, tend to get the proverbial pitchforks out and aim them squarely at the coach when things don’t go the way of the ‘Boks. The team is now some 14000km away from the local media circus and political meddling that has dogged their build-up to the tournament. The players and coach have looked a lot more relaxed during the interviews they’ve given from England and hopefully this transcends onto the playing field.

Despite Heyneke Meyer naming the most experienced team in the history of South African rugby, the starting backline has an experimental look to it. This will be the first time Jean De Villiers and Jesse Kriel operate in the centre together. Zane Kirchner and Pat Lambie have played very little international rugby in the past six months and Lwazi Mvovo is far from being a seasoned Test veteran. I have to say I do like the attitude Meyer has shown with his backline selection. While most of the previous World Cup winning coaches knew exactly which players would be in their starting XVs well before the tournament started, it’s often an unfancied squad player who comes in and plays a defining role. Chester Williams in 1995 and Shane Williams in 2003 are two names that come to mind. Meyer knows he’s got a chance to give some of the fringe players a run against Japan and still get the full five points out of the game. Who knows, this game may unearth the next Springbok superstar.

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I may have been a bit harsh with the whole “two meals shy of being declared undernourished” comment. There are some talented and powerful rugby players representing the Land of the Rising Sun at this year’s tournament. Both skipper Michael Leitch and livewire scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka haven’t looked out of place mixing it up with the Southern Hemisphere’s elite players in Super Rugby. Although Eddie Jones declared he’d be playing his strongest possible side against the Springboks a few months ago, I think he may well go for a more conservative route. Japan will meet Scotland four days after their game against the South Africans and Jones would rue having one of his big name players suffer an injury in a Test that they are unlikely to compete in, let alone win.

Regardless of the personnel he fields, his side is in for an uphill battle. Their average scoreline against the other Southern Hemisphere big guns doesn’t bode well for their prospects in this one. They have played the Australians on four occasions and in those games they’ve had 220 points put over them - and on average have conceded 55 points per game. It is even worse when you look at their stats against New Zealand. Their three encounters have seen the Silver Ferns amass a staggering 282 points - with 145 of those coming in a 1995 World Cup encounter. Eddie Jones is going to have to channel his inner Mr Miyagi if his side is to get any points out of this game.

VERDICT: South Africa (-43.5) 9/10
Generally, I’d go for the scoreline to remain within the 43.5 margin, but with the Springboks desperate to prove a point after a dismal Rugby Championship campaign, I can see Meyer’s side surpassing the margin in an emphatic display.

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