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5 talking points as England kick off tour against Eddie Jones’ Japan

By PA
Eddie Jones and Steve Borthwick confer ahead of England's game with Australia in Oita. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images,)

England and Japan will play their first official Test on Japanese soil when they clash at a humid National Stadium in Tokyo on Saturday.

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Here the PA news agency looks at five talking points for a game Steve Borthwick’s men enter as strong favourites.

Master v apprentice
Possibly more interesting than an encounter England should win comfortably is the sub plot of Eddie Jones’s first confrontation with his former employers and first head to head with Borthwick, his number two at Twickenham and during his first spell with the Brave Blossoms. It is a fascinating duel that pits veteran Jones against the man who he guided for the first seven years of his coaching career. Both will be desperate to win.

All Blacks curtain raiser
Bigger tests than Japan await England on their summer tour and with New Zealand looming in a fortnight, Borthwick has selected a side that is close to first choice in the hope of building cohesion and momentum. The conditions in Tokyo and Dunedin – the setting for their first clash with the All Blacks – will be as different as the quality of the opposition, but a conclusive victory is still vital.

Watch England vs Japan on RPTV

Smith’s time to shine
George Ford was masterful as England finished the Six Nations by finding their mojo against Ireland and France but with the veteran fly-half absent through injury, Marcus Smith will pull the strings against Japan. Smith has always been operating in the shadow of Ford or Owen Farrell but with both of them out of the picture, it is time for the Harlequins’ playmaker to prove he can provide the game management to match his creativity on the Test stage.

The indestructible man
When Tom Curry steps off the bench at National Stadium, it will complete a remarkable comeback for a player who has had just 34 minutes of action since last autumn’s World Cup. Curry underwent surgery to repair a career-threatening hip injury and despite the prognosis that he would not return until next season – if at all – he has shown remarkable powers of recovery to be involved on the summer tour. England will need his influence, especially in defence, if they are to topple the All Blacks.

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Under reconstruction
Japan field four debutants including a player who still turns out for his university side as they begin rebuilding for the 2027 World Cup. It was classic Jones picking Yoshitaka Yazaki at full-back even though he has yet to appear in a professional game, but the Australian is convinced the 20-year-old is ready for the step up. Japan intend playing fast and loose to suit their strengths and need to avoid an arm wrestle up front, especially with two of those debutants appearing in the front row.

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finn 4 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

What a difference 9 months makes! Last autumn everyone was talking about how important versatile bench players were to SA’s WC win, now we’re back to only wanting specialists? The timing of this turn is pretty odd when you consider that some of the best players on the pitch in the SA/Ireland match were Osbourne (a centre playing out of position at 15), Feinberg-Mngomezulu (a fly-half/centre playing out of position at 15), and Frawley (a utility back). Having specialists across the backline is great, but its not always necessary. Personally I think Frawley is unlikely to displace Crowley as first choice 10, but his ability to play 12 and 15 means he’s pretty much guaranteed to hold down a spot on the bench, and should get a decent amount of minutes either at the end of games or starting when there are injuries. I think Willemse is in a similar boat. Feinberg-Mngomezulu possibly could become a regular starter at 10 for the Springboks, but he might not, given he’d have to displace Libbok and Pollard. I think its best not to put all your eggs in one basket - Osbourne played so well at the weekend that he will hopefully be trusted with the 15 shirt for the autumn at least, but if things hadn’t gone well for him he could have bided his time until an opportunity opened up at centre. Similarly Feinberg-Mngomezulu is likely to get a few opportunities at 15 in the coming months due to le Roux’s age and Willemse’s injury, but given SA don’t have a single centre aged under 30 its likely that opportunities could also open up at 12 if he keeps playing there for Stormers. None of this will discount him from being given gametime at 10 - in the last RWC cycle Rassie gave a start at 10 to Frans Steyn, and even gave de Klerk minutes there off the bench - but it will give him far more opportunities for first team rugby.

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