BAGSHOT, ENGLAND – Japan may be out of the Rugby World Cup but the Top League is still well represented as the tournament enters the knockout stage.
South Africa takes on Wales on Saturday at Twickenham with seven of its starters set to suit up later this year for Japanese teams.
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer announced his squad Wednesday and took time out to praise Suntory Sungoliath scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, who will once again captain the two-time world champions.
“This year he wasn’t sure about playing and I begged him to come back (from Japan) because I know he is the type of guy if you have him in your team and he clicks, he is like Richie McCaw for the All Blacks,” he said.
“He is such an astute rugby player, it’s not just his style. I have coached him since he was 19 and he is one of the most astute players I have ever coached, even at that age.
“I know our game plan will click when he is involved. He is a genius, an unbelievable player. He is the type who if we go through in the tournament he will only get better.
“The more the pressure the bigger the odds guys like him will come through with character.”
Du Preez’s Sungoliath teammate Schalk Burger was named vice captain, and the flanker admitted it hadn’t been the easiest of tournaments.
“It’s pretty much been like my career, up and down,” he said. “We started with the most famous loss in world rugby against Japan, after that I will admit the last two weeks have been the toughest of my Springbok career. Lucky for us we turned a corner and regrouped to get a quarterfinal spot.
“What’s important now is we push the reset button after that first loss and now we need to focus on winning a quarterfinal. It won’t be easy with both teams trying to achieve the same thing but there is a lot of excitement in this group.”
The Top League players named in the Springboks team are the NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes pair of lock Eben Etzebeth and flyhalf Handre Pollard; inside center Damian De Allende, who will head to Osaka after the World Cup to play for Kintetsu Liners; wing JP Pietersen, who is set to play his third season for Panasonic Wild Knights, and fullback Willie le Roux, who recently signed with Canon Eagles.
Saturday’s other quarterfinal sees New Zealand, which has former Japan assistant coach Mick Byrne in its coaching staff, take on France, while on Sunday, Ireland plays Argentina and Australia takes on Scotland.
The Wallabies’ squad include Scott Fardy, formerly with Kamaishi Seawaves, Israel Folau, who will join Etzebeth and Pollard at NTT Docomo, Panasonic’s Ben McCalman and Bernard Foley, who will join Ricoh Black Rams when the World Cup ends.
On Wednesday, Foley paid tribute to another former Wallaby and Black Ram when asked who had inspired him.
“I suppose my most memorable one was Stephen Larkham,” he said. “Watching that 1999 World Cup and how he took control of that No. 10 jersey is the one that sticks out in my mind. He was definitely an inspiration of mine, someone I looked up to.
“Now, also as a coach, the knowledge he passes on to me has been invaluable.”