South Africa’s veterans such as 2007 World Cup winner Schalk Burger will be seeking to avoid a second historic defeat within months when they open their 2015 World Cup against Pool B rivals Japan on Saturday.
The two-time World Cup winners enter the tournament on the back of a poor Rugby Championship which included a first ever defeat by Argentina.
Japan are first up for the Springboks before in theory a bone-jarring clash with Samoa followed by the improving Scotland and then round it off against the United States.
Burger has great admiration for Japan accrued since he moved to play his club rugby there for Suntory Sungoliath. He particularly praised their effective use of the chop tackle where a player goes hard and low.
“The Japanese are adept at the chop tackle below the knees,” said 32-year-old Burger.
“That’s something we’re not too familiar with and they play the game at a very high tempo.
“We’ll have to get used to the speed. We won’t underestimate them. They’re a tough bunch of competitors and Eddie Jones is one of the best coaches in the world.”
Indeed Jones — who will leave his post at the end of the campaign — knows several of the Springboks well as he was part of the coaching staff in the successful 2007 campaign in France.
South Africa’s coach Heyneke Meyer has acknowledged the awkward threat posed by the Japanese XV.
“We play against the big teams from the Southern and Northern Hemisphere quite often and with them it’s mostly a case of you know what to expect,” said Meyer.
“But Japan will pose a different threat,” he added. “Our players who play in Japan have warned us to expect a very high tempo game and good, low tackling to stop momentum.”
Meyer, though, knows deep down that nothing less than a huge win over the Japanese — who for all their bravura and enthusiasm have yet to make an impact on the tournament — will heap the pressure on him and the side.
He has taken no chances with the starting line-up naming the most experienced ever led by centre Jean de Villiers with 880 caps to their name, 44 more than the previous mark when South Africa played Australia in the 2011 quarter-final.
For 34-year-old De Villiers — who has made a remarkable recovery from a serious knee injury and a broken jaw — the pressure is immense as he was labelled a ‘carthorse’ for his performance in the defeat against Argentina.
Meyer, though, believes his players will answer the call.
“The players know that nothing but their best will be good enough on Saturday, and we realise the importance of starting the World Cup on a good note,” said Meyer.
“But having said that, we also know that there is no such thing as an easy game in rugby any more, and they will be just as fired up as us.”
Zane Kirchner; Lwazi Mvovo, Jesse Kriel, Jean De Villiers (capt), Bryan Habana; Pat Lambie, Ruan Pienaar; Schalk Burger, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw; Victor Matfield, Lodewyk De Jager; Jannie Du Plessis, Bismarck Du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen, Pieter-Steph Du Toit, Siya Kolisi, Fourie Du Preez, Handre Pollard, JP Pietersen
Ayumu Goromaru; Akihito Yamada, Male Sau, Craig Wing, Kotaro Matsushima; Kosei Ono, Fumiaki Tanaka; Hendrik Tui, Michael Broadhurst, Michael Leitch (capt); Hitoshi Ono, Luke Thompson; Kensuke Hatakeyama, Shota Horie, Masataka Mikami.
Replacements: Takeshi Kazu, Keita Inagaki, Hiroshi Yamashita, Shinya Makabe, Amanaki Mafi, Atsushi Hiwasa, Harumichi Tatekawa, Karne Hesketh