Japan v New Zealand - Teams and Prediction
PREVIEW: All Blacks head coach Ian Foster said that his players were ready to show that their troubles were behind them as they kick off their Northern Hemisphere tour on Saturday against Japan.
New Zealand have endured a turbulent year that has included a home series loss to Ireland, a heavy defeat in South Africa and a maiden loss on home soil to Argentina.
But they got their act together to clinch the Rugby Championship, winning their last three Tests including a 40-14 thumping of Australia.
The All Blacks play Japan in Tokyo before moving on to Europe to face Wales, Scotland and England, and Foster said his team were “learning how to play for longer periods in a Test match”.
The Rugby World Cup in France begins in less than a year’s time.
“We certainly were a team that started the Championship a little bit slow but I think we’ve got the energy levels of the group right now,” said Foster.
“I think we took a lot of confidence about understanding our own game by the end of the Championship.”
Foster handed first Test starts to fullback Stephen Perofeta and centre Roger Tuivasa-Sheck against Japan, with Beauden and Jordie Barrett unavailable after the death of their grandmother.
The three Barrett brothers, including lock forward Scott, did not arrive in Tokyo until Thursday after attending the funeral in New Zealand.
Blues flyhalf Perofeta made his debut as a substitute in the final minute of the All Blacks’ home defeat to Argentina.
Rugby league convert Tuivasa-Sheck lines up alongside Braydon Ennor in the midfield, with centre Anton Lienert-Brown – in the squad for the first time this year – on the bench.
“It’s massive for myself and my family,” said Tuivasa-Sheck, who will win his third cap.
“To be playing No.12 for the All Blacks is a pretty big achievement and I’m pretty excited for the weekend.”
Sam Whitelock will miss the match after the lock’s arrival in Japan was delayed by an inner ear condition caused by playing with his children on a trampoline.
Brodie Retallick will win his 99th cap, partnering Tupou Vaa’i in the second row.
Scrumhalf Finlay Christie lines up alongside Richie Mo’unga in the halfbacks.
“There are a number of players that didn’t get a lot of time in the Rugby Championship that we had always intended to play,” said Foster.
“A few little tweaks and changes at the start of the week but it hasn’t really changed anything in terms of the quality of the team we’re putting out.”
Japan head coach Jamie Joseph named nine veterans of his team’s historic run to the quarterfinals of the 2019 World Cup on home soil in his starting line-up for Saturday.
Joseph said senior players such as Michael Leitch, Kazuki Himeno and Kotaro Matushima were important in “the messages they’re giving to the other players who haven’t played a lot of rugby”.
“What we believe is that if we can create pressure on the All Blacks, then we can create a winning opportunity,” said the New Zealand-born coach.
“It’s difficult but I guess we take confidence from the fact that we’ve done that before when we’ve put our game together at the right time.”
Players to watch
For Japan: Wing Kotaro Matsushima was one of the most exciting players in the world in 2019 and he will be looking to find that form again ahead of next year’s World Cup in France. Scrumhalf Yutaka Nagare is a wily customer, especially around the fringes and he will surely keep the visitors on their toes. In the pack, Kazuki Himeno is a big ball carrier and he will be one of the go-to men to get Japan over the advantage line. His back-row partner Michael Leitch has all the experience in the world, especially when it comes to New Zealand players. Leitch spent several years playing for the Chiefs and he knows how to get under their skin.
For New Zealand: Fullback Stephen Perofeta will finally get a chance to start a match and it will be the No.15 jersey. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck will also have a spotlight on him in the midfield. The former NRL star had a few appearances off the bench earlier in the season and he has the power and the speed to cause Japan plenty of problems in the midfield. No.8 Hoskins Sotutu still needs to convince the All Blacks coaches that he has the goods to be a top-class No.8 at international level and Saturday’s match is another perfect opportunity. Meanwhile, on the bench Anton Lienert-Brown makes a return to bolster the All Blacks’ midfield sticks.
2018: New Zealand won 69-31, Tokyo
2013: New Zealand won 54-6, Tokyo
2011: New Zealand won 83-7, Hamilton
1995: New Zealand won 145-17, Bloemfontein (RWC Pool match)
@rugby365com: New Zealand by 24 points.
Japan: 15 Ryohei Yamanaka, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Dylan Riley, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Siosaia Fifita, 10 Takuya Yamasawa, 9 Yutaka Nagare, 8 Tevita Tatafu, 7 Kazuki Himeno, 6 Michael Leitch, 5 Jack Cornelsen, 4 Warner Dearns, 3 Jiwon Gu, 2 Atsushi Sakate (captain), 1 Keita Inagaki.
Replacements: 16 Takeshi Hino, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Shuhei Takeuchi, 19 Kanji Shimokawa, 20 Faulua Makisi, 21 Naoto Saito, 22 Seunsin Lee, 23 Gerhard van den Heever.
New Zealand: 15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Sam Cane (captain), 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Tupou Vaa’i, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 George Bower.
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Dalton Papali’i, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 David Havili, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.
Date: Saturday, October 29
Venue: Japan National Stadium, Tokyo
Kick-off: 14.50 (18.50 NZDT; 05.50 GMT)
Expected weather: It will be mostly sunny with a high of 20°C and a low of 11°C.
Referee: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia)
Assistant referees: Jordan Way (Australia), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
AFP & @rugby365com