Japan will face an important milestone in its preparation for next year’s Rugby World Cup on Saturday when it faces Cup hosts France in the first of two test matches.
Head coach Jamie Joseph said Japan is “clearly behind” in its Cup preparation as a result of the pandemic which reduced to a trickle its schedule of international games.
A 43-7 win over Uruguay last weekend showed Japan is still capable of playing high-quality rugby. The two-test series against France will provide Joseph and Japan with a clear measure of their position a little more than a year out from the World Cup.
Japan achieved some of its best-ever international results when it hosted the 2019 World Cup, beating Scotland and Ireland in pool play to qualify unbeaten for the knockout rounds. A shortage of matches since has made it difficult for Japan to build on those results.
“One of the biggest challenges that I’ve faced since the World Cup in 2019, like a lot of other people around the world in sporting teams, is the pandemic,” Joseph said in naming his squad for the Uruguay and France tests. “The first year we had no rugby, last year we played seven games and so we are clearly behind in terms of our development.”
Joseph said the three home tests this year would give Japan the chance to test new players and “grow depth in all positions.”
He has made six changes from the team which beat Uruguay for the first test against France which likely will be played in hot conditions at the Toyota Stadium in Aichi Prefecture. The match kicks off at 3 p.m. local time when the temperature is expected to be around 34 degrees Celsius (93 Fahrenheit).
Six Nations champion France will likely test Japan up front. Joseph has recalled South Africa-born Wimpie van der Walt in the second row where he will combine with the young Australia-born lock Jack Cornelsen. Atsushi Sakate will captain Japan for the second time at hooker.
“The first thing we have to do is match their set piece or better it,” Joseph said. “They’re very strong in the lineout and at scrum time and they play a power game. This is what France will bring to the match and we’ve got to be able to handle that.”
France also will use the series to develop new players with an eye to the World Cup.
“Given the calendar and the (demands on) the players, we tried to select players who were fresh, who were available, mentally, physically and who were the best on the ranking that we hold,” coach Fabien Galthie said.
“This tour is an incubator for French rugby.”
Japan: Ryohei Yamanaka, Gerhard van den Heever, Dylan Riley, Shogo Nakano, Siosaia Fifita, Takuya Yamasawa, Kaito Shigeno; Tevita Tatafu, Ben Gunter, Michael Leitch, Jack Cornelsen, Wimpie van der Walt, Asaeli Ai Valu, Atsushi Sakate (captain), Keita Inagaki. Reserves: Ryuga Hashimoto, Yukio Morikawa, Shinnosuke Kakinaga, Warner Dearns, Lua Makisi, Daiki Nakajima, Lee Seung-Shin, Taichi Takahashi.
France: Melvyn Jaminet, Damian Penaud, Virimi Vakatawa, Yoram Moefana, Matthis Lebel, Matthieu Jalibert, Maxime Lucu; Yoan Tanga Mangene, Dylan Cretin, Charles Ollivon, Thomas Jolmes, Thibaud Flament, Demba Bamba, Peato Mauvaka, Jean-Baptise Gros. Reserves: Pierre Bourgarit, Dany Priso, Sipili Falatea, Thomas Lavault, Selevasio Tolofua, Sekou Macalou, Baptiste Couilloud, Antoine Hastoy.
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