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Japan change six and confirm Leitch ban, while Tonga alter seven

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Richard A Brooks/AFP via Getty Images)

Japan have made six changes as they look to bounce back from last weekend’s home loss to Samoa with this Saturday’s clash against Tonga. The 2019 Rugby World Cup quarter-finalists were pipped 24-22 by the Samoans in Sapporo in a game where they lost Michael Leitch to a red card.

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Having now been handed a two-match ban according to coach Jamie Joseph, which would see Leitch unavailable until the August 26 match against Italy (a three-game ban reduced to two after tackle school), this enforced absence of the back-rower is one of the half-dozen alterations that the Japanese have confirmed for their second warm-up game, a meeting with the Tongans in Osaka.

Three of the changes are in the pack with Asaeli Valu for Ji-won Gu at tighthead, Uwe Helu for James Moore at lock, and Ben Gunter for the suspended Leitch in the back row.

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RugbyPass Insiders | Tonga | Road to Japan

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RugbyPass Insiders | Tonga | Road to Japan

In the backs, Naoto Saito is at scrum-half for Yutaka Ngare, Tomoki Osada at inside centre for Shogo Nakano, and Semisi Masirewa is on the wing for Kotaro Matsushima.

Tonga, who were defeated 36-20 by Fiji in Lautoka in their opening pre-World Cup warm-up match, have made seven changes.

Four are in the pack with Samiuela Moli at hooker in place of Siua Maile, Steve Mafi at lock for Sam Lousi, Sione Havili at openside for Solomone Funaki, and Lopeti Timani at No8 with Vaea Fifita moving to blindside and Tanginoa Halaifonua dropping out.

In the backs, William Havili is at out-half for Otumaka Mausia, Pita Ahki for Malakai Fekitoa at inside centre, and Kyren Taumoefolau for Fine Inisi on the wing.

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