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Wallabies start late-season tour vs ever-improving Japan

·3-min read

OITA, Japan (AP) — Australia begins its late-season tour with a match Saturday against Japan at the Shona Denko Dome on the southern island of Kyushu — a stadium with recent bad memories for the Wallabies.

It was the venue where their 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign ended, beaten 40-16 in the quarterfinals by eventual runners-up England.

Australia will go into the match as favorites this time, though. In in six matches since 1975, Japan has never beaten the Wallabies.

But Australia coach Dave Rennie is taking the home side lightly.

“We’ve got a huge amount of respect for the Brave Blossoms who are now competitive with the best sides in the world,” Rennie said. “We’ll need to be at our best.”

Following the match with Japan, the Wallabies head to Britain for tests against Scotland, England and Wales on consecutive weekends from Nov. 7.

Samu Kerevi has been ruled out of Australia's side for the Japan match and will be replaced by Hunter Paisami in one of four changes to the Wallabies' starting XV.

Kerevi was instrumental in Australia’s four-game winning streak in the Rugby Championship that featured back-to-back victories over World Cup-champion South Africa and two against Argentina.

He injured his ankle in Australia’s most recent win over the Pumas and was in doubt for the test against Japan, the first of four on the squad's northern hemisphere tour.

The strong midfield presence of the Japan-based Kerevi and his combination with flyhalf Quade Cooper was influential in turning around the Wallabies’ fortunes following three straight losses to the New Zealand All Blacks.

“While it’s disappointing for Samu not to be able to play in Japan, Hunter started the first five tests this year and is chomping at the bit for another opportunity,” Rennie said.

Among the other changes to the starting lineup are Matt Philip returning at lock to partner Izack Rodda, Rob Leota on the blindside flank to join a backrow with captain Michael Hooper and No. 8 Rob Valetini, and Tom Wright returning on the wing.

Japan-based Cooper will start again at No. 10, forming an experienced halves combination with Nic White, while Paisami will join Len Ikitau in a young center combination.

For the home side, Jack Cornelsen carries one of the most famous surnames in Australian rugby but will make his test debut for Japan against the Wallabies.

Cornelsen, son of Wallabies Hall of Famer Greg Cornelsen, has been named to start at lock in the Japan lineup by head coach Jamie Joseph.

After being overlooked for a Super Rugby contract in Queensland, Cornelsen’s career was revived when he joined the Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan under former Wallabies head coach Robbie Deans. He will make his test debut Saturday alongside fellow Australian and Wild Knights teammate Ben Gunter who has been named at blindside flanker.

Cornelsen qualified to play for Japan after completing three continuous of residency there. He said he hadn’t imagined as a young player that when he made his first test appearance it would be against Australia.

“Growing up it wasn’t the path I imagined that I’d have taken but how quickly things can change,” Jack Cornelsen said. “I’m obviously really grateful for the position I’m in now and it’s not a position I would have been happening a few years ago.”

South Africa-born Pieter Labuschagne will captain Japan from flanker while Michael Leitch, Japan’s captain at the 2019 World Cup, will start on the bench.

Joseph said Leitch needs time “to focus purely on his rugby” and relieving him of the captaincy will “give him a break from the responsibility of leading the team."

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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