Venue: Hong Kong Football Club Grounds
Referee: Aaron Littlewood (Singapore)
Preview (From Saturday’s post)
’Japan head coach Eddie Jones has not unsurprisingly tinkered little with the side that beat the Philippines 121-0 last week. Jones named a 23-man squad that shows just three changes and one positional switch from the side that set an HSBC A5N scoring record in Fukuoka last weekend.
The lone change in the backs sees Yuta Imamura come in for Hirotoki Onozawa, who limped out of last week's game and the rest of the tournament with a leg injury. Jones said Imamura had impressed in training and with Kenki Fukuoka - who marked his debut last week with two tries - nursing a tender hamstring, his experience earned him the nod ahead of Yoshikazu Fujita.
Fujita, who will start the game on the bench, scored six tries on his debut last year against the United Arab Emirates before missing the rest of the international season and the 2012-13 domestic season with a knee injury. Fujita was named the 2012 HSBC A5N Emerging Player of the Year last season for his remarkable debut prior to his injury.
Recently, Fujita toured Australia and New Zealand with Junior Japan and Jones thinks he is now has a better understanding of what is needed to play international rugby.
"He either started or came off the bench for most of Junior Japan's recent games and has worked pretty hard the last couple of weeks," said Jones.
In the pack, Takeshi Kizu comes into the starting XV, having missed last week's game, while Hendrik Tui is promoted from the bench.
"Kizu wasn't quite right to go last week," Jones said. "We wanted to give him an extra week as he gives us extra size and is very robust around the ruck, which will be useful.”
Tui and Ryu Koliniasi Holani swap roles with Jones stressing that Holani did well last week, but he just wants to give Tui more playing time. "Koli played very well last week and will come off the bench. Tui wasn't 100 percent last week but he needs time in that position," Jones explained.
The move also means Takashi Kikutani moves from flanker to his preferred position of No. 8. Jones said he was pleased with the way his side started the tournament last week, especially given the weather, but added he was looking for an improvement this week particularly in terms of physicality.
"Given the conditions last week, we played really well and it showed how hard the players have been working," he said. "We looked much better than we did in our opener last year and in the second half moved the ball really well."
With Japan rapidly achieving mid-season form, damage limitation may be the number one priority for Hong Kong. The home team readily admitted that the fully professional Japan Brave Blossoms were in a class of their own and that stopping Japan for the first time in the five-year history of the tournament would be difficult.
“It is hugely important for the players to pit themselves against the best in Asia which is Japan. But as a fully professional team, they are at a different level to us and I’m not sure the playing field is really level at this moment,” said Hong Kong head coach Leigh Jones.
Japan has piled on half-century scores over Hong Kong on all but one occasion in the last five years – the closest game being a 45-22 result in 2011. Hong Kong captain Tom McColl has set his sights on emulating that feat, which also came at the Hong Kong Football Club, while hoping his side can go one better and compete for the full game, instead of only the second half as they did two years ago.
In 2011, Japan led Hong Kong 31-3 at the break but a revitalised home team came fighting back after the break to outscore the visitors by three tries to two to finish on 45-22 and proud losers.
“The aim is to put in an 80-minute performance,” said McColl. “If we can come away having accomplished our own targets and processes, I will be happy. We have set our own benchmark and if we come anywhere close to that, the score will take care of itself.”
It is almost a mission impossible for Hong Kong who will be missing all of its sevens players currently preparing for the London Sevens and Hong Kong’s bid to become a core team on the IRB Sevens World Series.
Backline problems have been exacerbated by the absence of fly-half Chris McAdam who has been ruled out of the competition after breaking his ribs in Hong Kong’s 53-7 victory over the United Arab Emirates last Saturday. This will push Niall Rowark into the limelight and he will team up with Peter McKee as Hong Kong field a new halves combination against Japan.
“The thing about world rugby is that it throws up players through injuries. Niall has been given the chance and it is up to him to grasp this opportunity,” said Leigh Jones.
But the loss of McAdam, whose strength, apart from his accuracy with his left foot, was his tackling, will be felt as Hong Kong try to stop Japan’s try-scoring machine which ran in 18 tries against the Philippines.
Hong Kong have also made a few tactical changes, mainly up-front, which coach Jones said was implemented to make the forwards more mobile and to be able to contest the breakdown which they failed to do consistently against the UAE.
“We are looking for more consistency. Last week we had some good moments and some ordinary moments. We will have to be at our best as we test ourselves against the best in Asia,” Jones added.
The Brave Blossoms are only scratching the surface of a 10-tests in 10-weeks schedule but are cagey enough not to look past Hong Kong - especially at home.
“I was reasonably satisfied against the Philippines but obviously the opposition was not quite at the same level. We are expecting a physical challenge from Hong Kong whom we respect greatly. We will have to do the hard yards,” Japan’s Jones said.
Japan captain and winger Toshiaki Hirose added: “Two years ago we didn’t play well in the second half against Hong Kong and we have come back this time determined to play 80 minutes of rugby. This is the most important game for us in the A5N.”’
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Prediction: Japan by 70 points
15-Ayumu Goromaru (Yamaha Jubilo) 21 tests
14-(c) Toshiaki Hirose (Toshiba Brave Lupus) 9
13-Male Sau (Yamaha Jubilo) 1
12-Harumichi Tatekawa (Kubota Spears) 10
11-Yuta Imamura (Kobelco Steelers) 33
10-Kosei Ono (Suntory Sungoliath) 15
9-Atsushi Hiwasa (Suntory Sungoliath) 18
8-Takashi Kikutani (Toyota Verblitz) 54
7-Michael Broadhurst (Ricoh Black Rams) 3
6-Hendrik Tui (Suntory Sungoliath) 5
5-Shinya Makabe (Suntory Sungoliath) 10
4-Hitoshi Ono (Toshiba Brave Lupus) 64
3-Hiroshi Yamashita (Kobelco Steelers) 16
2- Takeshi Kizu (Kobelco Steelers) 14
1-Masataka Mikami (Toshiba Brave Lupus) 1
16-Yusuke Aoki (Suntory Sungoliath) 23
17-Takuma Asahara (Toshiba Brave Lupus) 1
18-Kensuke Hatakeyama (Suntory Sungoliath) 37
19-Shoji Ito (Kobelco Steelers) 8
20-Justin Ives (Canon Eagles) 9
21-Ryu Koliniasi Holani (Panasonic Wild Knights) 23
22-Yu Tamura (NEC Green Rockets) 4
23-Yoshikazu Fujita (Waseda University) 1
Head Coach: Eddie Jones
15. Thomas McCill (capt)
14. Alastair Maclay
13. David Whiteford
12. Stewart Megaw
11. John Rees
10. Niall Rowark
9. Peter McKee
8. Pale Tauti
7. Matthew Lamming
6. Alexander Baddeley
5. William Hunt
4. Charles French
3. James Cooper
2. Alexander Harris
1. Wei, Leon
16. Stephen Nolan
17. Thomas Bolland
18. Daniel Watson
19. Matthew Stockdale
20. Charles Cheung
21. Michael Glancy
22. Sebastien Alfonsi
Head Coach: Leigh Jones
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