FUKUOKA – Jamie Joseph’s Japan side faces its first test of the autumn Saturday when it takes on Robbie Deans’ World XV in an uncapped game at Fukuoka’s Level 5 Stadium.
The Brave Blossoms meet a side that includes representatives from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, England, Italy and Argentina as well as the Japanese trio of Ayumu Goromaru, Yoshikazu Fujita and Takuya Yamasawa.
Kobe Kobelco Steelers scrumhalf Andy Ellis lead the invitation side and the former All Black, who was part of the team that won the 2011 Rugby World Cup, said he was looking forward to the experience.
“To lead a team with so many great players against Japan is an honor, and something I’m really looking forward to,” he said.
The 33-year-old former Crusader, like many of his World XV teammates, has had plenty of experience playing under Deans, having won the 2006 and 2008 Super Rugby titles with the current Panasonic Wild Knights coach.
“Andy is a leader, not just in what he says but, more importantly, what he does,” said Deans.
“You can see that in how Kobe has been so successful this season. A lot of their game is based around Andy and the leadership he provides.”
Ellis is one of two survivors, alongside former Wallaby and current Panasonic pivot Berrick Barnes, from the Deans-coached World XV that beat Japan 45-20 in Tokyo in 2015.
Barnes is one of three players on the side — alongside Goromaru and former Springbok Adriaan Strauss — to have won more than 50 caps for his country, while lock Geoff Parling has played 29 tests for England and three for the British and Irish Lions.
“It’s a great chance for these players, some of whom might have thought they would never play international rugby again, others who probably thought they would never get the chance,” Deans said.
“The Japan team has a big November coming up starting with a test against Australia next week. This will be great preparation for them. We will be looking to give them a tough afternoon.”
Earlier, Joseph named an experimental side for the non-capped game.
Locks Kazuki Himeno and Wimpie van der Walt, prop Koo Ji-won and center Sione Teaupa will make their first appearances for the senior national side as will prop Asaeli Ai Valu and back-row forward Fetuani Lautaimi, if they come off the bench.
Michael Leitch leads the side from No. 8 with scrumhalf Fumikai Tanaka the most experienced player with 61 caps to his name.
Wing Lomano Lava Lemeki makes his first appearance in the red and white since the 2016 fall tour, while fullback Ryuji Noguchi will look to continue the impressive form he showed in the June internationals.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5