NAPIER, New Zealand — A freshened-up Japanese national rugby team will face the New Zealand Maori on Saturday at McLean Park in Napier, as the fourth round of the Pacific Nations Cup begins.

After a disappointing 24-12 loss to Fiji due to forced errors in slippery, rainy conditions last Sunday at National Stadium in Tokyo, the Japanese side will implement nine changes to its starting lineup, including Luke Thompson, who debuts this year at test-match level as blind side flanker.

Thompson will be in charge of the lineout calls to complement the power strength of lock Tomoaki Taniguchi, who impressed by scoring two tries against the winning Australia A side on June 8 at Hakatano Mori Stadium in Fukuoka.

“This is my first time to play at No. 6 for Japan, it is a real challenge,” said New Zealand-born Thompson, a regular lock. “If I was living in New Zealand, I couldn’t play for the New Zealand Maori as I’m not of Maori descent, so I am really looking forward to our game.”

New Zealand’s Tier 3 national team, the New Zealand Maori, which joined the Pacific Nations Cup for the first time this year, is a team with a tradition dating back to 1888. Its members must show Maori lineage, as the team is an important outlet for preserving native Maori culture.

While it is the first time for Thompson to face the Maori, three of his teammates — open side flanker Hare Makiri, fullback Bryce Robins and flyhalf James Arlidge, who currently leads the tournament scoreboard with his kicking game — will face former teammates in Saturday’s match.

“What we learned from last week’s errors is that we can challenge other teams physically, but we need to focus on our mental game more. We need to step up to the next level and get more control of the game. That is the next step for Japan,” Robins said.

Said Arlidge: “The Maori are always a tough side to play against, they are very proud people and proud of their rugby. Being on the receiving end of the haka (war dance) will be hard, I try not to think about it too much. I look into the distance and block it out. I don’t know how much mental influence it would have on my game, but I don’t want to take the chance.”

The Maori team displays a unique war dance before its games, according to the team’s kaumatua elder and adviser Whetu Tipiwai. Called “Timatanga,” or The Beginning, this haka focuses on a challenge toward inner strength, as opposed to the well-known Ka Mate haka of war challenge, famously performed by the All Blacks.

” I feel a bit for the ex-Maori Japanese players,” Tipiwai joked, “because they know what they are up against. But after the game, we’ll be as family. There is no way that we can separate our ties. Hoki mai boys — Welcome home!”

Japan’s starting lineup: 1. Yuta Inose; 2. Taku Inokuchi; 3. Tomokazu Soma; 4. Tomoaki Taniguchi; 5. Toshimizu Kitagawa; 6. Luke Thompson; 7. Hare Makiri; 8. Ryu Koliniasi Holani; 9. Tomoki Yoshida; 10. James Arlidge; 11. Christian Loamanu; 12. Shotaro Onishi; 13. Yuta Imamura; 14. Kosuke Endo; and 15. Bryce Robins.

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