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England v Japan - teams and prediction

PREVIEW: England will bid to build on their impressive opening World Cup win over Argentina when they take on Japan in Nice on Sunday.

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The Japanese won all four of their pool games four years ago as hosts and kicked off their campaign in France with a 42-12 victory over tournament debutants Chile.

Courtney Lawes will captain an England side with three changes to the starting XV that defeated Argentina 27-10.

There are starts for props Kyle Sinckler and Joe Marler, and Lewis Ludlam at No.8, with Lawes starting at blindside and Ben Earls moving to openside.

The backline is unchanged.

“It was both pleasing and important that we were able to start our World Cup campaign with a good win against Argentina last Saturday,” said England coach Steve Borthwick.

“After another good week’s preparation in Le Touquet, we are looking forward to the challenge of playing a Japan side that will be full of confidence following their comprehensive win over Chile in their opening fixture of the competition.”

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Japan coach Jamie Joseph made four changes to his starting XV, bringing in hooker Shota Horie, flank Pieter Labuschagne and captain and No.8 Kazuki Himeno to the forwards pack, while Tomoki Osada is named at centre.

Back row forward Michael Leitch will make his 15th World Cup appearance after being named alongside Labuschagne and Himeno.

In doing so, Leitch will become Japan’s most-capped World Cup player, surpassing Luke Thompson.

* (Continue below …)

 

‘Extreme pressure’

There are 13 survivors in Joseph’s matchday team from the last time Japan played England in 2022 – a game which they lost 13-52 – including their only try-scorer that day, Naoto Saito.

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Joseph said he was expecting England to bombard his team.

“We are expecting a lot of pressure, it (kicking) is a big part of their game. We’ve got to be good enough to catch those balls under extreme pressure,” said the former All Black No 8.

Joseph called Uruguay’s spirited showing in their 13-27 loss to France on Thursday “inspiring for tier-two teams”.

“England will be a handful in the way they play the game. They play differently to everyone else at the World Cup and they control the game well,” he said.

“They control the kicking game and set-piece. For tier-two teams it is always a challenge.”

England effectively throttled Argentina, an imperious George Ford kicking all the points in the 27-10 win, including three drop-goals.

Concerns over not scoring tries, however, were not affecting the team, according to centre Elliot Daly.

“If we keep getting opportunities we’re definitely going to score some tries,” he said, adding that going a man down after the third-minute departure of Tom Curry on a yellow card upgraded to red had not helped.

Daly said England considered Japan to be a “brilliant team” even though the Brave Blossoms appear to be less of a force compared to 2019 when they made a barnstorming run to the quarter-finals as tournament hosts.

“They’re very hard to play against so we know we’re going to have to be up there again this weekend to get a performance and a result,” Daly said.

Players to watch

For England: Lewis Ludlam will start in place of Billy Vunipola at No.8, despite the latter having served his two-match suspension for a dangerous tackle against Ireland last month. Vunipola will start on the bench in Nice in Sunday. Ludlam, who made 11 tackles after coming on in the second half of the 27-10 win over the Pumas, replaces the suspended Tom Curry in the back row. Curry is banned after his sending-off against Argentina for an illegal challenge. Borthwick also drafted Kyle Sinckler and Joe Marler into the front row, while Ellis Genge drops to the replacements. Dan Cole, who started against the Pumas, is out of the squad entirely.

For Japan: Joseph has made four changes to his starting XV from last week’s win over Chile. Hooker Shota Horie, flank Pieter Labuschagne and captain and No.8 Kazuki Himeno come into the forwards pack and Tomoki Osada is named at centre. Back row forward Michael Leitch will make his 15th World Cup appearance after being named alongside Labuschagne and Himeno. In doing so, Leitch will become Japan’s most-capped World Cup player, surpassing Luke Thompson.

Head to head

Eng-v-Jap-head-to-head

Prediction

@rugby365com: England by 15 points

Teams

England: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Jonny May, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Alex Mitchell, 8 Lewis Ludlam, 7 Ben Earl, 6 Courtney Lawes (Captain), 5 Ollie Chessum, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Theo Dan, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 20 Billy Vunipola, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Marcus Smith, 23 Ollie Lawrence.

Japan: 15 Semisi Masirewa, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, Tomoki 13 Osada, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Jone Naikabula, 10 Rikiya Matsuda, 9 Yutaka Nagare, 8 Kazuki Himeno (captain), 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Michael Leitch, 5 Amato Fakatava, 4 Jack Cornelsen, 3 Jiwon Gu, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki
Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Warner Dearns, 20 Kanji Shimokawa, 21 Naoto Saito, 22 Dylan Riley, 23 Lomano Lemeki.

Date: Sunday, September 17
Venue: Stade de Nice, Nice
Kick-off: 21.00 (19.00 GMT, 20.00 UK and Ireland time, 04.00 Monday, September 18 JST)
Expected weather: Humid with intervals of clouds and sunshine. High of 20°C and a low of 20°C
Referee: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia)
Assistant referees: Nic Berry (Australia) & Andrea Piardi (Italy)
TMO: Joy Neville (Ireland)

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