TORONTO – Japan coach Eddie Jones overhauled his lineup on Monday for Wednesday’s Pacific Nations Cup clash with Fiji at BMO Field.
Michael Leitch will lead a team looking to upset the Flying Fijians with a place in the final still possible.
The six sides have been placed in two pools and play the three sides in the other pool, before the two sides with the best record advance to the final.
Fiji and Samoa lead the standings with seven points after the first two games, while Japan and the United States have five, Tonga four and Canada zero.
Leitch and Hendrik Tui make their first appearances of the tournament in the back row alongside Michael Broadhurst, who will be keen to make up for his moment of madness on Friday that allowed the U.S. Eagles to hold on for a 23-18 win.
“I’d like to see how much I’ve grown and improved as a leader while playing Super Rugby,” said Leitch. “I’m back with Japan after some time away so I’m really looking forward to it.
“Fiji is a strong opposition so we’d like to use the options we have properly, and check out our physical capabilities. They are big opponents so it’ll be a game in which our bravery will be tested.”
Also returning to the team, which shows nine changes to the starting XV, is scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka, who has made up with Jones after making some comments last week about apparent disharmony within the squad.
“It’s only been a few days since I’ve joined the Japan team and I haven’t had a team practice yet, but I’d like to pass on the experience of winning the Super Rugby competition and contribute to the team’s win in my first game since facing Italy in June 2014,” Tanaka said.
“I’d like to make a good judgment of the situation, enhance communication and win playing high-tempo rugby, which is Japan’s strength.”
Hooker Shota Horie and fullback Ayumu Goromaru are also back after being rested against the Eagles, while Kenki Fukuoka is preferred to Yoshikazu Fujita on the wing.
The bench has plenty of experience with Hitoshi Ono set to make his 90th appearance for his country and Kensuke Hatakeyama his 65th.
Hooper faces hearing
Sydney — Wallabies flanker Michael Hooper was set to face a SANZAR judicial hearing Wednesday after being cited for punching Argentina flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez during their Rugby Championship test at Mendoza last weekend.
Hooper, who was a second-half substitute, is accused of striking Sanchez in the 59th minute of the match, won 34-9 by Australia.
If found guilty, he could incur a minimum one-match suspension that would force him to miss the Wallabies’ next match against the All Blacks in Sydney on Aug. 8.