YOKOHAMA – Australia assistant coach Stephen Larkham said Wednesday that the Wallabies head into Saturday’s rugby international with Japan at Nissan Stadium knowing they are prepared both on and off the field.
A win over the All Blacks two weeks ago ensured the team is confident in its ability to beat anyone in the world, while the benefit of local knowledge will help the players settle in quickly to their new surrounds following an overnight flight from Sydney.
“It does make things a bit easier,” said former Ricoh Black Rams flyhalf Larkham, who won 102 caps during his illustrious career with the Wallabies.
“There is a Japanese side in Super Rugby and we play them every year and there are a number of ex-pat Aussies playing over here. So we know the landscape well and the culture and we have done our homework.”
And as Larkham, who was a key cog of the Australia side that won the 1999 Rugby World Cup, pointed out, “the more chances we get to come here and know the layout,” the better it is for 2019 when Japan hosts rugby’s premier tournament.
“It is invaluable to get to a venue before a World Cup. Knowing the (2019) final will be played at the stadium we play in on Saturday is a bonus,” he added.
Australia, which is set to return to Japan in October 2018 to play a Bledisloe Cup match against New Zealand, takes on Wales, England and Scotland in the coming weeks. But for now, their only thoughts are on Japan.
“We know they have a number of threats,” said defense coach Nathan Grey, who played for and coached Kyuden Voltex from 2003 to 2011 and who like Larkham was in the team that beat France in the 1999 World Cup final.
“They have (Amanaki Lelei) Mafi at No. 8, who last week was named the Australian (Conference) Super Rugby Player of the Year,” following a standout season with the Melbourne Rebels.
“Their whole back row are effective ball players and carriers and (Kotaro) Matsushima can play wing or fullback or slip in at center and create a lot of opportunities, so is a player we need to be aware of,” said Grey.
Grey drew much praise for the superb defensive effort put in by the Wallabies in their 23-18 defeat of the All Blacks and he said that while the general defensive system would remain the same against Japan, he would need to “make a few tweaks here and there.”
“You have to defend what threats the opposition pose and there are a lot of threats in the Japan side,” he said. “We will need to be at our best to stop them.”
Both teams were expected to name their sides Wednesday for the test match, the fifth meeting between the two nations. But injuries have forced both to delay the announcement until Thursday when Japan Rugby 2019 is also set to reveal the match schedule for RWC 2019.
Larkham, however, indicated that the Wallabies — who have beaten Japan in all four encounters, including a 91-3 win last time out at Rugby World Cup 2007 — would be looking to put out their strongest available side, despite three potentially tougher games on the horizon.
“Last week gave us an opportunity to rest some players against the Barbarians,” he said. “We will be looking to bring the more regular players back into the fold. We are putting everything into this test to see how we start this campaign.”