PARIS – Japan coach Jamie Joseph on Thursday night named his side for this weekend’s test with France, making just one change to the starting XV.
The former All Black and Japan international may have given his team a 50 percent mark following its victory over Tonga last Saturday in the opener of its French tour, but he seems happy enough with his players.
On Saturday at U Arena, Yutaka Nagare will run out in the No. 9 jersey with veteran scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka dropping to the bench.
With flanker Shunsuke Nunomaki returning home as the result of injury, there is also one change on the bench with Yoshitaka Tokunaga coming into the 23-man squad.
“It was a difficult team to select because the team performed so well against Tonga,” Joseph said.
“The main reason we have made a change with Nagare for Fumi is we always intended to give Nagare a start in a test match on this tour and it’s just panned out that way. We have been happy with all three halfbacks and it’s a good opportunity for Yutaka.”
Japan recorded its biggest-ever winning margin over Tonga in last week’s 39-6 win in Toulouse, and Joseph is hoping the confidence gained will hold it in good stead against Les Bleus.
“We’ve been together now for five weeks and seen some good growth in the players’ skills and also their mindsets around playing test-match rugby. So we’re really confident going into the game,” he said.
Nagare’s quick service from the base of the ruck will be key, and Japan will then look to flyhalf Yu Tamura to control the game as he did last week to ensure Japan makes the most of the opportunities that comes its way.
“The kicks are starting to get better and our chase pressure is getting a lot better as well,” assistant coach Tony Brown said of the team’s tactics in attack. “I think we are slowly getting the balance right between kicking and keeping the ball in hand.”
And when France has the ball, the Brave Blossoms will be hoping for more of the resilient defense of last week in which Wimpie van der Walt, Kazuki Himeno, Amanaki Lelei Mafi and Michael Leitch were outstanding.
Leitch is just one of three players on the Japan squad, alongside Tanaka and hooker Shota Horie, who played in the last encounter between the two sides — at the 2011 Rugby World Cup, when France scored three tries in the closing minutes to win 47-21.