Preview: Japan v Georgia
JUNE TEST: Japan may have to sacrifice a little style in favour of substance if they want to overcome Georgia’s beefy hard men this weekend, captain Michael Leitch revealed.
The Brave Blossoms have caught the eye in recent weeks, over-running Italy 34-17 before coming up just short in a 25-22 defeat against the Azzurri in the second game of their two-Test series.
But Japan, hosts for the 2019 World Cup, will need to add some steel to their free-flowing rugby in Saturday’s one-off Test against Georgia in Toyota.
“We will always play our fast game but defensively we have to match them,” Leitch told local media.
“If they start getting gain line after gain line, it’s going to be a long day at the office.”
— Japan Rugby (@JRFURugby) June 22, 2018
Japan, ranked one spot above Georgia at 11th in the world, welcome back burly lock Shinya Makabe from injury to add more muscle to their pack, and the 31-year-old can’t wait.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been this nervous,” he told Japan’s Nikkan Sports. “I’ll do everything I can to meet the expectations,”
While Makabe’s return helps Japan’s cause, coach Jamie Joseph has been forced to ring the changes due to a growing injury list.
Backs Kenki Fukuoka (knee), Will Tupou (face) and Kotaro Matsushima (concussion) have been ruled out, but Joseph remained upbeat.
“The injuries give us an opportunity to bring in some fresh blood,” said the former All Black.
“At the World Cup next year we play four Test matches in four weeks and have to back it up week after week,” he was quoted as saying by Kyodo news agency.
“That’s why this game is so important. It’s a chance to overcome last week’s defeat and mentally get up again.”
Georgia head coach Milton Haig will be looking for his team to bounce back from recent defeats by Pacific islanders Tonga and Fiji.
“We’ve watched Japan’s last six games so we have a fair bit of intel on them,” said the New Zealander.
“Of course we will rely on our traditional strengths in the set piece, but we want to move the ball as we need that to be competitive against Tier One nations.”
Georgia can also call on some inside information from hooker Jaba Bregvadze, who plays for Japan’s Super Rugby side the Sunwolves.
But asked if Japan would need to tweak their calls to avoid Bregvadze deciphering them, Leitch wisecracked: “No, it’s okay. His Japanese isn’t that flash!”
Date: Saturday, June 23
Venue: Toyota Stadium, Japan
Kick-off: 15.06 (06.35 GMT, 09.35 Georgia time)
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Nic Berry (Australia)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)