The return to the starting line-up of Springbok captain Siya Kolisi, now fully recovered from injury, is the only change to the team that drew 16-16 with the All Blacks to open the way to a first Castle Lager Rugby Championship in a decade, in Wellington six weeks ago.
Erasmus underlined the significance of the challenge and warned the Boks not to be complacent against a very good Japanese team.
It means 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.
Kolisi replaces Kwagga Smith – who drops out of the 23 altogether – in what has become an otherwise settled combination, appearing in essence for the third time this season. This was also the group which clinched the Championship with a resounding 46-13 victory over the Pumas in Salta.
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.
Japan beat Italy at home a year ago and also led England at halftime at Twickenham in November 2018, during a sequence of six victories in nine matches since the start of that year which has seen them climb the rankings to equal their highest place ever position of ninth.
Friday’s match kicks off at 19h15 local time at the Kumagaya Rugby Stadium – a 26 500 seater venue which will host matches at the subsequent Rugby World Cup. The match is being screened live on SuperSport (kick-off 12h15 SA time).
The Springbok team to face Japan in Kumagaya:
15. Willie le Roux (Wasps, England), 55 caps - 60 points (12 tries)
14. Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse, France), 9 - 15 (3t)
13. Lukhanyo Am (Cell C Sharks), 8 - 5 (1t)
12. Damian de Allende (DHL Stormers), 39 - 20 (4t)
11. Makazole Mapimpi (Cell C Sharks), 7 - 25 (5t)
10. Handré Pollard (Vodacom Bulls), 41 - 381 (6t, 63c, 72p, 3d)
9. Faf de Klerk (Sale Sharks, England), 24 - 15 (3t)
8. Duane Vermeulen (Vodacom Bulls), 48 - 15 (3t)
7. Pieter-Steph du Toit (DHL Stormers), 49 - 20 (4t)
6. Siya Kolisi (captain, DHL Stormers), 42 – 25 (5t)
5. Franco Mostert (Gloucester, England), 31 - 5 (1t)
4. Eben Etzebeth (DHL Stormers), 78 - 15 (3t)
3. Frans Malherbe (DHL Stormers), 31 - 0
2. Malcolm Marx (Emirates Lions), 26 - 20 (4t)
1. Steven Kitshoff (DHL Stormers), 39 - 5 (1t)
16. Bongi Mbonambi (DHL Stormers), 29 - 20 (4t)
17. Tendai Mtawarira (Cell C Sharks), 110 - 10 (2t)
18. Trevor Nyakane (Vodacom Bulls), 40 - 5 (1t)
19. RG Snyman (Vodacom Bulls), 15 - 0
20. Francois Louw (Bath, England), 68 - 45 (9t)
21. Herschel Jantjies (DHL Stormers), 3 - 15 (3t)
22. Frans Steyn (Montpellier, France), 60 - 132 (10t, 5c, 21p, 3d)
23. Jesse Kriel (Vodacom Bulls), 44 - 60 (12t)