PREVIEW: Japan v Ireland
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Ireland's jet-lagged players fear sapping heat could be a factor against Japan on Saturday after completing a light training session in scorching conditions.
Coach Joe Schmidt has made six changes to his starting XV for the clash in Shizuoka, on Japan's Pacific coast, but stand-in skipper Rhys Ruddock predicted Friday that the visitors would face a severe examination.
"I would imagine it is going to be a serious challenge," he told reporters.
"All week we have been mentally preparing, we know it's going to be horrible and it is going to be challenging," added Ruddock. "It will make what is already a hugely difficult test even harder."
An Ireland side missing key players involved in the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand arrived in Tokyo earlier this week from New York after thrashing the United States 55-19.
The second game of their three-match June tour will be a test of stamina against a Japan side who beat Romania 33-21 last weekend.
Ruddock and Leinster loose-forward teammates Jack Conan and Dan Leavy expect a real test from Japan's hulking trio of Chiefs flank Michael Leitch, Melbourne Rebels No.8 Amanaki Mafi and Sunwolves openside talent Yoshitaka Tokunaga.
"We'd have known a lot about Leitch and Mafi from over the years playing for Japan and performances in Super Rugby," said Ruddock.
"But Tokunaga has really impressed us. He's dynamic and he's really good around the breakdown. He could pose a lot of problems for us."
Ruddock added: "We've done our homework but dealing with it is another thing, so hopefully we can prove we're up to the challenge."
Japan will look to exploit their home advantage with an up-tempo game dictated by scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka and flyhalf Yu Tamura.
But Ruddock insisted Ireland would be ready for the onslaught in a rehearsal for the 2019 World Cup, when they face will tournament hosts Japan in the pool stage.
"They're a really strong side," he said. "We actually know a lot about their players. Guys like Tanaka and Tamura are quality operators.
But the work we've done in the week has allowed us to know what their strengths."
Japan have never beaten Ireland and the last time they met was in 2005.
But the Brave Blossoms have made major strides since, shedding their tag as World Cup pushovers two years ago by winning three games under Eddie Jones, including a stunning upset of South Africa.
Players to watch:
For Japan: Wing Kenki Fukuoka has been in fantastic form in Super Rugby and he has a lot of speed to burn. Scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka is dangerous around the rucks, while loose forward Michael Leitch has all the skills to trouble the Irish at the breakdown.
For Ireland: Lock Devin Toner is a powerhouse up front, while flyhalf Paddy Jackson has the skill and the composure to control things at the back. Fullback Simon Zebo and wing Keith Earls are try-scoring machines.
Head to head: The battle between the two back rows will be interesting, while flyhalves Yu Tamura and Paddy Jackson no slouches in the No.10 jerseys.
2005: Ireland won 47-18, Tokyo
2005: Ireland won 22-12, Osaka
2000: Ireland won 78-9, Dublin
1995: Ireland won 50-28, Bloemfontein (WC pool match)
1991: Ireland won 32-16, Dublin (WC pool match)
Prediction: Japan has the ability to cause an upset in Tokyo. However, Ireland will have too much quality man-for-man and they should win by 15 points at least.
Japan: 15 Ryuji Noguchi, 14 Kotaro Matshima, 13 William Tupou, 12 Timothy Lafaele, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 6 Michael Leitch, 5 Uwe Helu, 4 Kotaro Yatabe, 3 Heiichiro Ito, 2 Shota Horie (captain), 1 Keita Inagaki.
Replacements: 16 Yusuke Niwai, 17 Shintaro Ishihara, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Hendrik Tui, 20 Shuhei Matsuhashi, 21 Yutaka Nagare, 22 Derek Carpenter, 23 Rikiya Matsuda.
Ireland: 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Andrew Conway, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Rory Scannell, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Luke McGrath, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Dan Leavy, 6 Rhys Ruddock (captain), 5 Devin Toner, 4 Quinn Roux, 3 John Ryan, 2 Niall Scannell, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 James Tracy, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 Kieran Treadwell, 20 Jack O’Donoghue, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Rory O’Loughlin, 23 Tiernan O’Halloran.
Date: Saturday, June 17
Venue: Ecopa Stadium, Shizuoka
Kick-off: 14:00 (06.00 Ireland time; 05:00 GMT)
Expected weather: It will be partly cloudy with a high of 27°C. There will also be a slight breeze
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: JP Doyle (England), Alex Ruiz (France)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Agence France-Presse & @rugby365com