Rugby

Brave Blossoms forced to make changes ahead of clash against Georgia

Kyodo

Japan coach Jamie Joseph named a much-changed side Thursday for Saturday’s clash with Georgia at Toyota Stadium in Aichi Prefecture, with injuries sidelining a number of players.

Five days after falling to Italy in their second test to even that series, Joseph has made seven changes and two positional switches as the Brave Blossoms look to finish the June internationals on a winning note.

In the backs, Kenki Fukuoka (knee), Will Tupou (facial), and Kotaro Matsushima (concussion) all miss out, while replacement forward Uwe Helu is also suffering the effects of a knock to the head.

“The injuries have given us an opportunity to bring in some fresh blood, some fresh players to make an impact and show us they can play international footy,” Joseph said.

Akihito Yamada comes in for Fukuoka on the left wing, Ryuji Noguchi replaces Matsushima at fullback and Timothy Lafaele moves from 12 to 13 with Tupou ruled out.

Yutaka Nagare replaces Fumiaki Tanaka at scrumhalf and Harumichi Tatekawa returns to the side at inside center, while Yu Tamura and Lomano Lava Lemeki keep their spots at flyhalf and right wing, respectively.

In the forwards, captain Michael Leitch switches back to blindside flanker to allow specialist openside Shunsuke Nunomaki to come in at No. 7, with Amanaki Lelei Mafi returning to the starting XV at No. 8.

The one other change in the pack is at lock with Shinya Makabe returning to the side to pack down alongside Samuela Anise behind the established front row of Shota Horie, Keita Inagaki and Koo Ji-won.

“Makabe brings physical presence and brings the team confidence,” Joseph said of the switch in the engine room.

The replacements bench sees a 6:2 split with Yusuke Niwai, Shintaro Ishihara and Takuma Asahara covering the front row.

Wimpie van der Walt and Kazuki Himeno are joined on the pine by Masakatsu Nishikawa, who will win his first cap should he take to the field.

Tanaka and Rikiya Matsuda are the reserve backs.

“Playing Georgia, who traditionally have a very big pack, they will obviously target our set piece . . . and I just feel we will need extra resources in the forwards,” Joseph said of the makeup of the bench.