Japan looks to all but wrap up the 2017 Asia Rugby Championship on Saturday when it faces Hong Kong at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground.
Only the elements have ever denied Japan a bonus-point win in the 10 years since the tournament became an annual event — back in 2015, when the game in Hong Kong was abandoned due to heavy rain.
And despite the visitors being in the second year of their professional 15s program, it would still be shock if Japan did not head to Hong Kong next week needing just one point to clinch the title.
Japan coach Jamie Joseph — whose charges have started their campaign with 47-29 and 80-10 victories over South Korea — said motivating the team had not been a problem despite the one-sided nature of the championship, given the busy year ahead that sees them take on Romania and Ireland in June and Australia and France in November.
“The players responded well from the first game as you would expect. Motivating them hasn’t been hard, they are playing for a test spot in the big leagues,” he said Friday after the captain’s run.
Joseph’s run-on XV shows seven changes and two positional switches from the side that started last weekend’s game as the Brave Blossoms balance the withdrawal of several players to Argentina, to bolster the Sunwolves with the return of some experienced campaigners in Harumichi Tatekawa and Shota Horie.
“We have made changes and given new players a chance to show their abilities against a team that is bigger and different to Korea,” Joseph said.
“It’s great having Haru and Shota back. Haru has been working hard off the field with the young guy (Kanta Shikao) making sure he feels comfortable ahead of his first test. And Shota has rested and got rid of all his niggles. I think he will be pretty spirited tomorrow.”
Joseph said he was particularly looking forward to seeing how Tatekawa links up with Rikiya Matsuda.
“I can’t wait to see our young 10 Matsuda control the game inside Haru. This is a combination worth observing.”