All Blacks to face Japan in 2018
NEWS: The All Blacks will return to Japan in 2018 as part of the team's build-up to World Cup 2019.
New Zealand's Prime Minister Bill English, who is on an official visit to Japan, made the announcement with officials from New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) in central Tokyo.
The Test will be played on November 3, 2018, with the venue to be confirmed later this year when the locations for World Cup 2019 are announced.
The All Blacks will fly to Japan to prepare for the Test match before heading onto Europe for the All Blacks annual Northern European Tour.
Speaking at the media conference, NZR Chief Executive Steve Tew said the Test met several objectives.
"Interest in rugby in Japan is on a high and will only build as we get closer to World Cup 2019. The Test will not only provide a great opportunity to prepare for the 2018 end of year tour, it also gives the team first-hand experience of playing in Japan less than a year out from the tournament.
"Playing in Japan is always a highlight. Their fans love the game and are great supporters of the All Blacks and New Zealand rugby. Our partners are also very active in using our players in the region in various campaigns and promotions, so I expect there will be keen interest in the match."
JRFU President Tadashi Okamura said: "It is a great pleasure to welcome the All Blacks back to Japan for a match less than one year out from Japan hosting World Cup 2019.
"Matches don't come much bigger than against the current World Champions, so in many ways it will be a curtain-raiser to the tournament in 2019.
"We have a tremendous amount of respect for the All Blacks and are proud of the strong rugby relationship between Japan and New Zealand. We have learnt a lot from New Zealand rugby over the years and we look forward to our head coach and All Black Jamie Joseph leading out our team."
The All Blacks have played Japan five times before. They played Japan in Tokyo twice in 1987 (the matches weren't given Test match status) and again in 2013. The two sides also met at the 1995 and 2011 World Cups. The All Blacks have also played a Bledisloe Cup Test against Australia in Tokyo, in 2009.
Japan head coach Jamie Joseph added: "It will be a wonderful occasion for Japanese rugby to take on the All Blacks, the current Rugby World Champions and the number one ranked team in the world.
"Our team proved at World Cup in 2015 that we shouldn't be taken for granted. And with the Sunwolves ongoing progress in Super Rugby, we're confident of putting in a determined performance against the All Blacks."
All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen said: "We’re delighted to be returning to Japan for what no doubt will be a great occasion. The match against the 'Brave Blossoms' will be an important part of our preparation towards 2019. It'll give our team the chance to experience the unique environment and culture we will return to the following year. We look forward to being hosted by the Japanese."
Steve Tew also acknowledged the presence of New Zealand Prime Minister at the announcement.
"Having the New Zealand Prime Minister with us for the announcement of this Test is an honour and reflects positively on the close relationship between both nations whether it’s in rugby, sport, trade or business."
Further details on the All Blacks v Japan Test, including the venue, kick-off time and ticketing details will be announced by the JRFU in due course.