WARWICK, ENGLAND – Having been given an extra day off following their Rugby World Cup win over Samoalast wekend, the Brave Blossoms began preparations Tuesday for their final Pool B game against the United States on Sunday.
A win against the Eagles in Gloucester combined with a Samoan victory over Scotland on Saturday would see Japan make the quarterfinals for the first time in their history.
But regardless of how events turn out in Newcastle, the Brave Blossoms are looking to end the pool stage in style.
“Of course we want to play in the quarterfinals, but it’s out of our control,” said Craig Wing. “Whatever happens Saturday won’t affect how we approach the game. We want a big win regardless of what we are playing for.”
The former Australia rugby league star has yet to feature in the tournament, thanks to a longstanding calf injury, but the center said Tuesday he was fit and ready to go.
And he may well be needed in the starting XV with Male Sa’u and lock Hitoshi Ono both picking up injuries during the win over Samoa.
Sa’u damaged his right knee and Ono strained his left hamstring and coach Eddie Jones said they were “both very doubtful for Sunday’s game.”
Jones said there were no plans to fly out any replacements, telling Kyodo News, “We will make do with what we’ve got.”
Wing said “he would play anywhere I am picked — even the forwards,” but admitted there were a number of other players in the squad who had more experience than him in the No. 13 jersey at international level.
Meanwhile, Akihito Yamada — who was stretched off the field at Stadium MK after getting knocked out — had a CT scan on Monday and Jones said that if he continues to progress as he is “he should be right” for the U.S. game.
The Eagles play South Africa on Wednesday at Olympic Park and have rested a number of key players for their game with Japan. And Luke Thompson said they shouldn’t be underestimated.
“They are all good athletes and have a big pack so it will be a challenge.”
And, like Wing, he was adamant Japan had the drive to produce a big performance, even if things don’t go its way the day before.
“We’ve got to win, we have to win,” he said. “We have come this far and had some good results. If we don’t win, then that will be a case of taking the icing off the cake.”
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