France v Japan - teams and prediction
PREVIEW: Next year’s World Cup hosts France finish their year-end campaign on Sunday by facing Japan in Toulouse with head coach Fabien Galthié’s mind already turned towards the tournament.
Les Bleus have beaten Australia and South Africa so far this November as they continue their record of 12 straight Test victories, a landmark that had been set in the 1930s.
“We play a third match in a series of quarterfinal, semifinal and Final,” Galthié told reporters this week.
“We’re testing out what we’re hoping to achieve in less than a year’s time.
“Beating two Southern Hemisphere sides on the trot leaves its marks, and that’s what’s happened to us.
“Our ambition is clear. Practising a run of games like that is what we have in mind,” he added.
Galthié has been forced into three changes with the captain and World Player of the year Antoine Dupont banned while Cyril Baille and Thibaud Flament are injured.
Last weekend’s win over the Springboks meant Galthié and team manager Raphael Ibanez had led Les Bleus to victory over each side in the top 10 of the world rankings since they took over three years ago.
“Our mission is to win games and remain in the world’s top three. We’re second now,” Ibanez said.
“One day, we have to have the ambition to be number one.
“It doesn’t guarantee that we will get to experience the ultimate success in 10 months but it gives us guarantees in our process.
“What’s essential is that we can position ourselves and that we’re up with the major rugby nations,” the former France hooker added.
Between Galthié’s side and a “final” win are the hosts of the 2019 World Cup, who have lost to England and New Zealand, narrowly, over the past three weeks.
France claimed a series win over the Brave Blossoms, 10th in the world, in July with a second-string outfit due to a clash with the Top 14 semi-finals.
“Slipping up is always a possibility, I don’t think we’ll slip up but beware. Up against us are opponents we’ve played twice, who can cause problems to any tier one team,” Galthié said.
“Recently they played poorly against England but the match against the All Blacks was very tight.
“We’ll play an opponent who we consider a major opponent,” he added.
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Jamie Joseph’s visitors have spent the week in Toulouse, where they will prepare for the World Cup and play Chile as well as Samoa in next September’s group stages.
The town’s club has won a record 21 French titles as well as five European Cups.
“It’s probably one of the best rugby facilities I’ve ever visited,” Joseph said.
“Toulouse is a rugby town, with great rugby people. We’re fortunate to be stationed here,” he added.
The Brave Blossoms have made five alterations from last weekend’s loss to England with ex-Clermont winger Kotaro Matsushima named on the bench
“It’s a great opportunity for us as a team to be able to travel abroad especially with the World Cup being here,” Joseph said.
“France have also had two difficult and physical games. They’ll be a little bit like us, they’ll be sore and relieved they got through the South Africa game.
“They want to finish the year off well, and that’s no different to us,” he added.
Players to watch
For France: Scrumhalf Maxime Lucu replaced World Rugby player of the year Antoine Dupont, with the latter missing the game after receiving a four-week ban for a dangerous challenge in the win over South Africa. There are two other changes – loosehead prop Reda Wardi coming in for Cyrill Baille and lock Romain Taofifenua replaces Thibaud Flament. La Rochelle’s Wardi will make his first Test start after coming off the bench on the half-hour mark in the last weekend’s win over the Boks. Wing Damian Penaud starts despite pulling up during Thursday’s heavy training session with a knee issue. On the bench, 25-year-old Montpellier lock Florian Verhaeghe is set to make his international debut in the town where he started his senior career. Elsewhere among the replacements, loosehead Dany Priso and scrumhalf Baptiste Couilloud, who scored the winning try against the Brave Blossoms in July’s second Test, come in.
For Japan: Japan coach Jamie Joseph dropped former Clermont wing Kotara Matsushima to the bench, replaced by Shogo Nakano – with Dylan Riley moving to the flank. The New Zealander, Joseph, made four other changes. Scrumhalf Noaoto Saito, flyhalf Seungsin Lee, wing Siosaia Fifita, back row forward Pieter Labuschagne come in – with Takuya Yamasawa, Yutaka Nagare, Gerhard van den Heever and Tevita Tatafu out of the starting lineup. Between the five, only 33-year-old Labuschagne has more than 11 international appearances with next year’s World Cup less than 10 months away.
Head to head
@rugby365com: France by 18 points
France: 15 Thomas Ramos; 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Yoram Moefana; 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Maxime Lucu; 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon (captain), 6 Anthony Jelonch; 5 Romain Taofifenua, 4 Cameron Woki; 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Julien Marchand, 1 Reda Wardi.
Replacement: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Sipili Falatea, 19 Florian Verhaeghe, 20 Bastien Chalureau, 21 Sekou Macalou, 22 Baptiste Couilloud, 23 Matthieu Jalibert.
Japan: 15 Ryohei Yamanaka; 14 Dylan Riley, 13 Shogo Nakano, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Siosaia Fifita; 10 Seungsin Lee, 9 Naoto Saito; 8 Kazuki Himeno, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Michael Leitch; 5 Jack Cornelsen, 4 Warner Dearns; 3 Jiwon Gu, 2 Atsushi Sakate (captain), 1 Keita Inagaki.
Replacements: 16 Kosuke Horikoshi, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Shuhei Takeuchi, 19 Wimpie van der Walt, 20 Tevita Tatafu, 21 Yutaka Nagare, 22 Hayata Nakao, 23 Kotaro Matsushima.
Date: Sunday, November 20
Venue: Stadium de Toulouse, Toulouse
Kick-off: 14.00 (13.00 GMT; 22.00 Japan time)
Expected weather: Variable cloudiness, becoming breezy in the afternoon with a passing shower. High of 11°C, low of 3°C
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy (Ireland) & Chris Busby (Ireland)
TMO: Tom Foley (Ireland)