• AFP-JIJI

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Wallabies skipper Michael Hooper warned his team against taking Japan lightly, calling the Brave Blossoms “no joke,” with threats across the park.

Australia faces Japan in Oita on Saturday, a brief layover on the way to Great Britian for tests against Scotland, England and Wales in successive weeks.

But Hooper, the 115-test veteran, who played in Japan for Toyota Verblitz this year, said the Wallabies’ only focus was on winning a fifth straight test.

“It’s important to keep growing,” he said as the team looks to build on four wins in the recent Rugby Championship — two each against world champion South Africa and Argentina.

“A win will be a product of us focusing on what we need to focus on to beat these guys.”

Under the tutelage of former All Black Jamie Joseph, Japan made the quarterfinals at its home World Cup in 2019 and put up stirring performances against the British and Irish Lions and Ireland earlier this year.

Hooper said it proved the caliber of the Japanese team.

“They play a high-tempo game,” he said. “They want ball in play, they’ll look to run things a lot.”

“They’ve got some really good athletes, a mobile team. It will be a real challenge to nullify that speed and to take them to some places that they’re uncomfortable with.

“They’re no joke, the Japanese are a solid team with threats across the board.”

Australia will enter the match with the added incentive of trying to earn its first win away from home since Dave Rennie took over as coach.

Rennie signaled his intentions by naming a strong side, with Hunter Paisami recalled as cover for the injured Samu Kerevi and Tom Wright in for star winger Marika Koroibete, who is not touring.

The other two changes to the starting side that beat Argentina 32-17 this month sees Matt Philip return to the second row and his Melbourne Rebels teammate Rob Leota recalled at blindside flanker.

While Australia is accustomed to night matches, Saturday’s clash will kick off at 1:45 p.m, something Hooper admitted will be a new concept for some of his players.

“What’s unique about it is, you wake up and have breakfast and then the pregame meal is about an hour or two later,” he said.

“So just getting an understanding about how that features in each guy’s preparation. We’re all different and guys will like to do it differently. So we need to have a plan around that.”

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