The Japan side to take on Hong Kong on Saturday in the final game of this year’s Asia Rugby Championship was named Wednesday and shows a number of changes from the team that beat South Korea two weeks ago to clinch the title.
With the Rugby World Cup getting ever closer, head coach Eddie Jones has opted to make four changes in the pack, one in the backs and introduce a new face and two old favorites on the bench.
“We going to have a tough preparation and make sure the team understands World Cup selection is on the platter but the first priority is to beat Hong Kong and beat them well,” Jones said.
Fullback Ayumu Goromaru leads the side from fullback with his former Waseda University and current Yamaha Jubilo teammate Yuki Yatomi the only change in the backs, the scrumhalf getting the chance to prove to Jones he can take over from Atsushi Hiwasa as the No. 2 scrumhalf in the squad.
“As game captain there is of course a little more pressure but there’s nothing I can do about it and I have to just play as normal,” said Goromaru. “As always the players are very proud to have been selected as the best 23 and will take that responsibility into the game.”
Up front, Ryuhei Arita and Shinnosuke Kakinaga join Hisateru Hirashima in the front row with Luke Thompson back alongside Shoji Ito in the engine room.
Hayden Hopgood is promoted from the bench to join Ryu Koliniasi Holani and Justin Ives in the back row as the Brave Blossoms look to finish the tournament off in style.
“We’ve picked the best 23 for this week,” Jones said. “And it’s given an opportunity to a number of players who have been working hard and haven’t had much game time. Guys like Kakinaga, Arita and Hopgood.”
The one new cap in the 23-man squad is prop Ryu Sioapelatu Holani, younger brother of the No. 8. Michael Broadhurst is set to return to national colors for the first time since November 2013, while Hitoshi Ono will add to his Japan record 87 caps if he comes off the bench.
“Sioa and (reserve scrumhalf Keisuke) Uchida on the bench have been working hard in camp and deserve an opportunity to play against Hong Kong,” Jones said.
Hong Kong are currently second in the standings ahead of South Korea on points difference. They come into the game having not beaten Japan since June 1998 and knowing that failure to pick up a bonus point or a defeat by more than 29 points will leave them third.
Whoever finishes last will at least know their season is over however. From next year the side finishing top of Division 1 will challenge the third-place team for a spot in the elite division. However, this year Sri Lanka have opted out, saying they are not ready to take the next step up.
Saturday’s game at Aberdeen Sports Ground will be preceded by a women’s test with the Sakura XV a win away from joining the men as champions of Asia.
Hisateru Hirashima, Ryuhei Arita, Shinnosuke Kakinaga; Luke Thompson, Shoji Ito; Justin Ives, Hayden Hopgood, Ryu Koliniasi Holani; Yuki Yatomi, Harumichi Tatekawa; Kenki Fukuoka, Yu Tamura, Karne Hesketh, Yoshikazu Fujita, Ayumu Goromaru (c)
Masataka Mikami, Hiroki Yuhara, Ryu Sioapelatu Holani, Hitoshi Ono, Michael Broadhurst, Keisuke Uchida, Ryohei Yamanaka, Toshiaki Hirose