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Brave Blossoms leave stars on the bench for Wallabies skirmish

By AAP

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The Brave Blossoms have named a relatively inexperienced line-up for this weekend’s clash with the Wallabies, including two debutants.

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Australia products Ben Gunter and Dylan Riley have both been named to earn their first caps for Japan, with Gunter named in the No 6 jersey and Riley as outside backs cover on the bench.

Five further 2021 debutants have been included in the matchday squad, including winger Siosaia Fifita, and reserves Craig Millar, Jack Cornelson and Naoto Saito, who all played their first test match against the British and Irish Lions, and fullback Semisi Masirewa, who debuted against Ireland.

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The panel of Ross Karl, Bryn Hall and James Parsons run their eyes over all the developments from the past week of rugby.
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The panel of Ross Karl, Bryn Hall and James Parsons run their eyes over all the developments from the past week of rugby.

Former captain Michael Leitch and experienced pivot Yu Tamura, meanwhile, will start the match on the bench and will be expected to add some much-needed experience late in the game against a strong Wallabies side.

That duo aside, coach Jamie Joseph has retained much of the line-up that came close to scoring a victory over Ireland in Dublin earlier this year.

The front-row is unchanged from that clash, with Keita Inagaki and Ji-won Gu combining with hooker Atushi Sakate.

There’s one adjustment in the second row, with Australia-born Jack Cornelson coming in to replace the injured Wimpie van der Walt and partnering James Moore.

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Captain Lappies Labuschagne is the only loose forward retained from the 39-31 loss, with Gunter taking Leitch’s spot on the blindside flank and fan favourite Kazuki Himeno named at number 8.

Rikiya Matsuda has been handed the playmaker’s role at No 10 and will partner Suntory’s Yutaka Nagare in the halves while the experience midfield combination of Ryoto Nakamura and Timothy Lafaele is retained.

In the outside backs, Fifita holds his spot on the left wing, Semisi Masirewa shifts to fullback in place of Kotaro Matsushima and 32-year-old Lomano Lemeki lines up in the No 14 jersey.

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The trio of Gunter, Riley and Cornelson were scouted by former Wallabies coach Robbie Deans to join the Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan’s Top League.

As well as playing lock, Cornelsen is comfortable anywhere in the back row where his Panasonics teammate Gunter will fill a jersey for the first time.

Gunter, 23, grew up in Gunnedah in NSW country, but also shifted to Japan after being unable to crack Super Rugby at home.

Former Australian schoolboys winger Riley, 24, received his Japan citizenship in 2019 and has played three Top League seasons.

Japan: Semisi Masirewa, Lomano Lemeki, Timothy Lafaele, Ryoto Nakamura, Siosaia Fifita, Rikiya Matsuda, Yut aka Nagare, Kazuki Himeno, Pieter Labuschagne (c), Ben Gunter, James Moore, Jack Cornelsen, Koo Ji-won, Atsushi Sakate, Keita Inagaki. Reserves: Yusuke Niwai, Craig Millar, Asaeli Ai Valu, Michael Leitch, Tevita Tatafu, Naoto Saito, Yu Tamura, Dylan Riley.

– with AAP, Melissa Woods

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Brave Blossoms leave stars on the bench for Wallabies skirmish

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