Japan have just two scheduled fixtures left to play before the World Cup kicks off next month. As such, Jamie Joseph seems to be playing with combinations leading into the final round of the Pacific Nations Cup.
The Saturday match between Japan and the USA will decide who wins this year’s competition. Japan’s most successful season to date was in 2014, when the Brave Blossoms took out the Asia/Pacific conference ahead of the USA and Canada. 2014 also marked the Eagles’ best finish – 2nd in the conference.
Given the contracted nature of 2014’s competition, both sides have arguably already achieved greater things in this year’s tournament. To date, Japan have bested Fiji and Tonga whilst the USA have taken out Canada and Samoa.
The Pacific Nations is probably the last thing on Japan coach Joseph’s mind, however, with the World Cup just around the corner.
As such, there are eight changes to the Brave Blossoms staring lineup.
The front remains intact, but James Moore and Uwe Helu have taken over in the second row from Luke Thompson and Wimpie van der Walt. Thompson has started Japan’s two previous matches and has put in impressive shifts that defy his 38 years of age.
Captain Michael Leitch retains his spot on the blindside flank but both Amanaki Mafi and Yoshitaka Tokunaga will make way for Hendrik Tui and Pieter Labuschagne. After being named as captain in his debut game, Labuschagne had to leave the field against Fiji due to a medial strain. He will be hoping to play the full 80 against the Eagles.
At halfback, Fumiaki Tanaka gets his first match of the year after sitting out the previous two matches through injury. He will partner will the experienced Yu Tamura in the halves. Questions may remain over what would happen should Tamura go down at the World Cup because he’s the only Brave Blossom to have received game time at 10 in this year’s competition. Rikiya Matsuda, on the bench, will likely be given some time to prove has can lead a backline later in the match.
Joseph has chosen to mix things up in the midfield. Timothy Lafaele moves in a place to start at second five for Ryoto Nakamura, whilst last week’s fullback, Will Tupou, will come in at centre. Ryohei Yamanaka will slide in at fullback and Kenki Fukuoka comes onto the wing for Lomano Lemeki.
Ultimately, Japan are still fielding a strong team – one that should be more than good enough to account for the high-flying Eagles.
The match kicks off at 4:45 Fiji Standard Time and is part of a double-header being played in Fiji, with Fiji taking on Samoa shortly afterwards.
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