Rugby World Cup
Japan vs South Africa: Springboks hoping to start with a bang
Rob Bartlett
September 18, 2015
Will South Africa dominate Pool B?

Write off South Africa at your peril. The Springboks haven't exactly had an enjoyable 2015, but they always seem to turn it on for a Rugby World Cup. Heyneke Meyer's side begin their campaign against Pool B opponents Japan, who hold lofty ambitions of their own. Eddie Jones wants his side to reach the quarterfinals in England, meaning Saturday's clash in Brighton could well prove pivotal in the final makeup of the group.

Team news

Two-time world champions South Africa are refusing to take the Brave Blossoms lightly. Meyer has named the most experienced line-up in Springboks Test history -- their starting XV boasts a total of 880 Test caps -- for the first ever meeting between the two nations. Jean de Villiers captains a team containing fellow centurions Bryan Habana and Victor Matfield -- the latter is the oldest player in the tournament. South Africa also welcome back Lood de Jager and Jannie du Plessis from injury, while their bench has been fortified by the returns of Coenie Oosthuizen, Fourie du Preez and JP Pietersen.

Japan have followed suit; head coach Eddie Jones has named the oldest side in their Test history, having made five changes to the team that beat Georgia a fortnight ago. Kosei Ono starts at fly-half at the expense of Harumichi Tatekawa, who drops to the bench. Koliniashi Holani misses out on the matchday 23 altogether -- he suffered slight concussion against the Lelos in Gloucester -- while Hitoshi Ono, Japan's most capped player, will earn his 95th cap in Brighton.

Key head-to-head

Former France prop Pieter de Villiers, who is currently helping coach South Africa's forwards, believes Japan have the "most improved scrum in the world". The strength of their forwards was visible in their final warm-up match against Georgia -- even Jones was surprised his side scored a maul try by overpowering the famous Georgian pack. Tight-head prop Kensuke Hatakeyama has the ability to score tries from the front and will take some stopping -- his battle with Tendai Mtawarira (nicknamed "Beast") will surely produce some fireworks.

Key stats

* Out of 29 Rugby World Cup matches, South Africa have only lost four times - that's a tournament win ratio of 86%.

* Japan have only one World Cup victory to their name - a 52-8 triumph over Zimbabwe in 1991.

* This will be the first ever Test meeting between the two nations.

Odds

Unibet are offering odds of 33/1 for a Japan victory and early World Cup upset. Bryan Habana, South Africa's leading World Cup try-scorer, is priced at 9/2 with the same firm to score the opening try of the match. The Springboks are third favourites at 13/2 to lift the Webb Ellis Cup -- behind New Zealand and tournament hosts England -- while Japan are 5000/1 outsiders to win the tournament outright.

Weather

Sunny spells with plenty of cloud cover is expected in Brighton on Saturday -- but the good news is a very low chance of rain. With little wind predicted, it promises to be perfect rugby weather on the south coast.

Prediction

While Japan have been impressive in their preparations -- successive Test wins against Uruguay were followed by that hard-fought win against Georgia in Gloucester -- an upset here looks extremely unlikely. When it comes to World Cups, South Africa are a different beast and should have more than enough to start with a victory. Japan will enjoy celebration later on in the tournament -- but this will be the Springboks' day.

Play ESPNfootytips Rugby World Cup Tipping

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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