Preview: Japan v Wales
Japan have high hopes of scoring their first ever victory over a major nation when they take on depleted Six Nations champions Wales.
Japan have high hopes of scoring their first ever victory over a major nation when they take on depleted Six Nations champions Wales in Osaka on Saturday.
The Brave Blossoms will look to seize a golden opportunity while 15 of Wales's best players and their head coach, Warren Gatland, tour Australia with the British and Irish Lions.
Japan have contested all seven editions of the World Cup and will host the tournament in 2019, but they have never beaten top-10 opposition in an international history which stretches back to the 1930s.
Scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka, who has been in impressive form with New Zealand's Super Rugby outfit the Highlanders, admitted he would be devastated if Japan did not grab their chance.
"I will be very, very disappointed if we lose, because they [Wales] are a second, third strength team," said Tanaka.
Japan have cantered to six straight Asian Five Nations titles without losing a single game, and they also won the Pacific Nations Cup in 2011.
But they have found life tougher on the wider stage and they remain winless in the World Cup since thrashing minnows Zimbabwe in 1997.
In seven full internationals against Wales, Japan's smallest margin of defeat was 23 points, in Tokyo in 2001, and the biggest was a 98-0 collapse in Cardiff in 2004.
However, that could all change at Osaka's Kintetsu Hanazono Rugby Ground on Saturday where Wales, under stand-in coach Robin McBryde, have eight uncapped players in their match-day line-up.
Japan's former Wallaby coach Eddie Jones has bolstered the team that lost 22-8 to Fiji in the Pacific Nations Cup last week by calling up Tanaka and Melbourne Rebels hooker Shota Horie.
"They have brought so much back with them from their time in Super Rugby," said Jones.
"They approach training knowing that every time they have to do something it is important. And they really help with the communication of the team."
Former Australia Rugby League international Craig Wing will start at centre and Michael Broadhurst moves to flank after fellow New Zealand-born forward Michael Leitch broke his leg against Fiji.
Wales are on their third visit to Japan, after making their first trip in 1975 with a squad that included legends JPR Williams, Phil Bennett and Gerald Davies.
Saturday's starting team includes 18-year-old wing Dafydd Howells as one of four debutants, plus another four on the bench. Six Nations stalwarts Lloyd Williams and Dan Biggar will provide solidity at half-back.
"They are eager to get out there now, pull on the jersey and show what they can do," said McBryde. "It's a fantastic opportunity for them and they know the importance of wearing the jersey and representing our nation."
Wales are ranked fifth in the world while Japan are 15th and aiming to break into the top 10 by the 2015 World Cup. They will also play Scotland this year and are in talks for a visit from world champions New Zealand.
Players to watch:
For Japan: The two obvious players are Japan's Super Rugby stars - Highlanders scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka and Rebels hooker Shota Horie. They may not have had that much game time, but their outings would have ensured they will be a step up from most of their teammates in terms of intensity and the pace of the game.
For Wales: Given that 15 first-choice players are on tour Down Under, you could probably look at all 22 in the matchday squad to see if they can challenge for regular starting spots. Those most likely to do that are Dan Biggar, Lloyd Williams, Bradley Davies, Rob McCusker, Rhys Gill, Andries Pretorius, Tavis Knoyle and Tom Prydie.
Head to head: The most interesting of these battles will be at scrumhalf - where Fumiaki Tanaka (Japan) and Lloyd Williams (Wales) will be the protagonists. Japan may feel they have a chance, but then they ill have to be up for it in the set pieces - especially the scrums, where Hiroshi Yamashita, Shota Horie and Masataka Mikami will defend Japan's honour against Andrew Coombs, James King and Rob McCusker (Wales).
2007: Wales won 72-18, Cardiff (World Cup pool match)
2004: Wales won 98-0, Cardiff
2001: Wales won 53-30, Tokyo
2001: Wales won 64-10, Osaka
1999: Wales won 64-15, Cardiff (World Cup pool match)
1995: Wales won 57-10, Bloemfontein (World Cup pool match)
1993: Wales won 55-5, Cardiff
Prediction: Japan may feel they have a good chance of knocking over Wales for the first time, and this is indeed a second-string Welsh touring party. However, the Japanese may find the depth in Welsh rugby is far greater and the structures much better developed, ensuring even the Welsh B-Team is good enough. We feel Wales will win, but this could be the first time Japan do not concede 50 points or more. Wales by about 20 points.
Japan: 15 Ayumu Goromaru, 14 Yoshikazu Fujita, 13 Male Sau, 12 Craig Wing, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Harumichi Tatekawa, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Takashi Kikutani (captain), 7 Michael Broadhurst, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Shoji Ito, 4 Hitoshi Ono, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Masataka Mikami.
Replacements: 16 Takeshi Kizu, 17 Yusuke Nagae, 18 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 19 Toshizumi Kitagawa, 20 Ryuta Yasui, 21 Atsushi Hiwasa, 22 Yu Tamura, 23 Hirotoki Onozawa
Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Harry Robinson, 13 Owen Williams, 12 Jonathan Spratt, 11 Dafydd Howells, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Ryan Bevington, 7 Emyr Phillips, 6 Scott Andrews, 5 Bradley Davies (captain), 4 Lou Reed, 3 Andrew Coombs, 2 James King, 1 Rob McCusker.
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Andries Pretorius, 20 Dan Baker, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Tom Prydie.
Date: Saturday, June 8
Venue: Kintetsu Hanazono Stadium, Osaka
Kick-off: 14.00 (06.00 UK time; 05.00 GMT)
Expected weather: There will be plenty of cloud around, but no chance of rain. Hot an humid with a high of 28°C and a low of 15°C
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Greg Garner (England), TBC (Japan)
AFP & rugby365