Preview: Japan v Australia

Preview: Japan v Australia

Japan will be looking to upset the odds once again when they host the Wallabies at Yokohama Stadium on Saturday in the first November international.

Who could ever forget that monumental victory over the Springboks in the 2015 World Cup that marked the dawn of a new era for Japan rugby.

While Eddie Jones, who now coaches England, was the man who oversaw that turning point, Japanese Rugby has continued to put world-class coaches at the helm.

Having brought in Jamie Joseph as head coach, they recently bolstered the coaching ranks with an excellent addition in the form of former Hurricanes assistant John Plumtree as defence coach.

However, the Sunwolves were well off the pace in Super Rugby with New Zealand Rugby Union boss Steve Tew also saying Japan are far from joining the Rugby Championship.

The Sunwolves conceded far too many tries in Super Rugby and Plumtree will need to get to work fast if he is to paper over the cracks, but it could be asking too much.

The Wallabies are a well-oiled outfit having had plenty of time together with that added training camp prior to the Rugby Championship. Well-drilled too by Michael Cheika, the Aussies have experienced something of a resurgence after their woeful June series in which they lost to Scotland and almost to Italy.

The national side has gone some way to redeeming Australian rugby after a woeful Super Rugby season which saw Aussie sides go winless against Kiwi teams as well as the ongoing saga over which franchise would be cut from Super Rugby and Andrew Forrest’s plans to start his own competition.

The renaissance was well and truly completed with the breaking of their Bledisloe drought with a 32-18 victory over the All Blacks a fortnight ago. This, after credible draws with the Springboks and running the All Blacks close in Dunedin.

Cheika has named a strong side, clearly not wanting all of his good work to be undone as he seeks to build continuity.

However, some are viewing his selection of Reece Hodge at fly-half as a ‘massive gamble’, with Hodge not having played in that position for the Rebels in Super Rugby this season.

Players to watch:

For Australia: Samu Kerevi has recently lost his spot in the regular starting XV to Tevita Kuridrani. He will want to show everyone the sort of performances at international level that earned him a spot in the Super Rugby 2017 Team of the Year. He makes dozens of carries and tackles, boasting a phenomenal work rate.

For Japan: Michael Leitch skippers the side and is an experienced campaigner. He led them to “the biggest shock in Rugby World Cup history” as part of the team that defeated two-time world champions South Africa in 2015 and has plenty of Super Rugby experience. His leadership, dogged defence and ball carrying will be critical to Japan’s effort.

Head-to-head: Amanaki Mafi and Sean McMahon are both key players for their respective sides. They are the go-to ball carriers, play a critical link-up role between forwards and back and step up on defence as well. The battle between these two hard men should be great to watch. Whoever performs better, particularly with ball in hand, will have a major say in who has the upper hand on attack.

Previous results:

2007: Australia won 91-3 in Lyon
1987: Australia won 42-23 in Sydney
1975: Australia won 37-7 in Sydney
1975: Australia won 50-25 in Brisbane

Prediction: Wallabies by 25. The Japanese defence will be put to the sword here.

The teams:

Japan: 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Lomano Lava Lemeki, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Harumichi Tatekawa, 11 Ryuji Noguchi, 10 Rikiya Matsuda, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 6 Michael Leitch (c), 5 Uwe Helu, 4 Kazuki Himeno, 3 Takuma Asahara, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki
Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Koki Yamamoto, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Wimpie van der Walt, 20 Fetuani Lautaimi, 21 Yutaka Nagare, 22 Yu Tamura, 23 Sione Teaupa

Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Reece Hodge, 9 Nic Phipps, 8 Sean McMahon, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Matt Philip, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Lopeti Timani, 22 Joe Powell, 23 Curtis Rona

Date: Saturday, November 4
Venue: International Stadium, Yokohama
Kick-off: 14:40 local (05:40 GMT)
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Tim Baker (Hong Kong)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

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