The Japan side that will take to the field Friday evening against Samoa at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground shows four changes and two positional switches from the team that started last weekend’s Rugby World Cup qualifier against Hong Kong.
With their ticket to the World Cup booked following Sunday’s 49-8 victory, the Brave Blossoms have released Shota Horie and Male Sa’u to the Melbourne Rebels, allowing Takeshi Kizu to start in the No. 2 jersey and Kotaro Matsushima to get a run at outside center.
Meanwhile, youth takes over from experience in the pack with Shinya Makabe and Hendrik Tui taking from Luke Thompson and Justin Ives at lock and flanker, respectively.
Makabe will line up in the engine room alongside veteran Hitoshi Ono, who with 82 caps will become Japan’s most capped player, overtaking the mark he currently shares with Hirotoki Onozawa.
In the backs, Harumichi Tatekawa and Yu Tamura swap roles with the former starting at 10 and the latter at 12.
“Male is our starting 13 and we need another guy that can replicate his power and pace,” coach Eddie Jones told Kyodo News on Wednesday after naming his side. “I’ve got a gut feeling that Kotaro could conceivably fill that role. He’s played a little there in South Africa and has power and pace and is a good low tackler so he is our best second option.”
Jones said the changes in the pack were based on Samoa playing their traditional power game.
“Makabe and Tui give us more running power early on, while the work rate and set piece skills of Thompson and Ives will be invaluable in the last half of the game.”
The change in roles for Tatekawa and Tamura was, Jones said, “another gut feeling” ahead of tests that see Japan take on Samoa, Canada, the United States and Italy on consecutive weekends.
“It gives us another way to play. We didn’t kick in the Asian 5 Nations, but we will need to in these games. Having Tamura at 12 gives us that option and will make us tactically harder to play against.”
In addition to Ives and Thompson, the replacements show two changes with Hiroki Yuhara brought in as backup hooker and Ryoto Nakamura named the utility back, as Jones sticks with a 6:2 forwards, backs split.