Hosts New Zealand will look to reaffirm their tag as tournament favourites when they take on Japan on Friday morning in Pool A of this year’s Rugby World Cup, kick off 9am Irish time.
Graham Henry’s men overcame a spirited performance from Tonga in the opening game now a week ago and they face Tonga’s fellow minnows in what should be a comfortable victory for the All Blacks. Coached by John Kirwan, a member of the All Blacks’ 1987 winning team, Japan produced a spirited display in their opening match against France. Kirwan though has made ten changes to that team who ran France all the way so they might not be able to reproduce that same display in Hamilton on Friday.
The last time these two countries have met was back in 1995 and it was a game that Japan would like to forget quickly. The All Blacks running out 145-17 winners in South Africa but that was sixteen years ago and Japanese rugby has come on leaps and bounds since then, as emphasised against France. Japan will host the 2019 edition of the rugby fest and they will want to show the rugby superpowers that they are now an established IRB nation. A repeat of the 1995 score line is very unlikely considering the All Blacks have made eight changes but the same result is expected.
New Zealand skipper Richie McCaw had been due to make his 100th appearance but he has been withdrawn as a precaution, along with Dan Carter and Mils Muliaina, with the trio all picking up minor injuries. Despite the late changes, the All Blacks line-up looks fairly impressive – with Andy Ellis, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Colin Slade, Adam Thomson, Keven Mealamu and Sam Whitelock all handed starts.
As mentioned, Japan have also rung the changes with only Hirotoki Onozawa, Toshizumi Kitagawa, Koji Taira, Michael Leitch and Takashi Kikutani retaining their places after the 47-21 loss to France.
Players to Watch:
Without the opening game double try scorer- Israel Dragg, watch out for Cory Jane on the wing. There are so many All Blacks backs who could be selected as the danger men with the likes of Nonu, double try scorer against Tonga- Kahui. Conrad Smith and Toeava but Jane could expose the Japan defence with his pace. He has just played 20 times for his country but has a great try scoring record not just for the All Blacks but also for his club Wellington.
All of the Cherry Blossom’s squad play their rugby in Japan but out half James Alridge. He scored 21 points in that game v France with two tries and one conversion. Despite his heroics he has been left out at the Nottingham fly half is replaced by New Zealand born Murray Williams. Don’t expect Japan to get the try scoring opportunities like France handed them so their chance to stay in touch with NZ will be via the boot of Williams. He has to take advantage of any chances he gets with his right boot.
Prediction: Despite their changes and without the core trio of McCaw, Carter and Muliania, the home side should have far too much for the side currently ranked 13th in the World. All Blacks by 30 points.
New Zealand: 15 Isaia Toeava, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Richard Kahui, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Adam Thomson, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 John Afoa, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Anthony Boric, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Piri Weepu, 22 Sonny Bill Williams.
Japan: 15 Taihei Ueda, 14 Takahisa Usuzuki, 13 Koji Taira, 12 Yuta Imamura, 11 Hirotoki Onozawa, 10 Murray Williams, 9 Atsushi Hiwasa, 8 Takashi Kikutani (c), 7 Michael Leitch, 6 Itaru Taniguchi, 5 Toshizumi Kitagawa, 4 Hithoshi Ono, 3 Nozomu Fujita, 2 Yusuke Aoki, 1 Naoki Kawamata
Replacements: 16 Hiroki Yuhara, 17 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 18 Yuji Kitagawa, 19 Sione Talikavili Vatuvei, 20 Tomoki Yoshida, 21 Shaun Webb, 22 Alisi Tupuailai.
Date: Friday, September 16
Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Kick-off: 20:00 (8:00 GMT)
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Alain Rolland (Ireland), Jérôme Garces (France)
Television match official: Giulio De Santis (Italy)