SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - The Japan side that will take the field at Sacramento’s Bonney Field on Friday against the United States in the second round of the Pacific Nations Cup shows eight changes and one positional switch from the side that started last weekend’s 20-6 win over Canada.
Japan faces the U.S. in Pool B at the Rugby World Cup later this year, and head coach Eddie Jones has already said he is treating the game as a practice session so as not to give anything away prior to their Oct. 11 clash in Gloucester, England.
With World Cup places on the line, Jones is also trying to give as many of his squad a run to show they warrant a ticket to England on Sept. 1. And with Michael Leitch, Fumiaki Tanaka, Craig Wing, Hendrik Tui and Shinya Makabe all flying out to join the squad on Wednesday, there will be even more changes for the final two games of the competition.
Kensuke Hatakeyama leads the side from tighthead prop and forms an all-new front row alongside Keita Inagaki and Takeshi Kizu.
“We need to keep the momentum going from the good game we had against Canada,” said Hatakeyama. “Although we will be in enemy territory, playing the U.S. in America, I want to prepare well and really enjoy it. They will be our opponents in the World Cup, but I want to just concentrate and compete without giving that much thought.”
Hitoshi Ono and Luke Thompson keep their spots in the second row as do flankers Michael Broadhurst and Justin Ives, but there is a change at No. 8 with Ryu Koliniasi Holani set to win his 40th cap.
Keisuke Uchida gets a rare start at scrumhalf and he will partner Harumichi Tatekawa, who has recovered from the facial injury he picked up against Canada.
“It’s the first time I have started a game in two years so there is a feeling of both fun and tension,” said Uchida. “This may be my first and last chance to get a lot of playing time before the World Cup. I will treat it as if I am getting one chance in the World Cup itself and take my best shot.”
Ryohei Yamanaka takes over from Yu Tamura at inside center with Kotaro Matsushima keeping his No. 13 jersey. Akihito Yamada and Karne Hesketh are brought in to show what they can do on the wings, while Yoshikazu Fujita shifts from wing to fullback, despite showing some defensive frailties last week.
Of the eight players on the bench, six were involved in last week’s game, while hooker Hiroki Yuhara and flyhalf Kosei Ono look to get their first outings of the campaign.
The U.S. Eagles — which lost 21-16 to Samoa in its opening game — head into the game under some controversy with former skipper Todd Clever, who spent a number of years in Japan with Suntory Sungoliath and NTT Communications Shining Arcs, axed from the squad for missing two team meetings.