Pool A preview: New Zealand v Japan
Pool A preview: New Zealand v JapanSHARE
Hamilton is not Bloemfontein. This week’s World Cup match between mighty New Zealand and eager Japan will not be a repeat of 1995, the Nagasaki of Japanese rugby.
In Bloemfontein the All Blacks did what they liked and broke records in winning 145-17. They will win in Hamilton but if the Brave Blossoms’ performance against France is anything to go by there will be no horrible records. New Zealand will win but within bounds.
For the Japan side it is a wonderful opportunity to play against the best in the world. All sportsmen like playing against the best and take tales of such encounters with them to the grave. After all they are only the second Japanese team to play the All Blacks. The first was that one in Bloemfontein in 1995 when the All Blacks scored 21 tries.
Japan will not expect to win this match. Nobody in his right mind would expect Japan to win, but the proud Japanese will be determined to put up a good show, and one hopes that they can continue the trend of the 2011 World Cup of good performances by the ‘minnows’ and no thrashings.
Look at the sides and it is impossible to see where on earth the Japanese will have the beating of New Zealand and yet they have made radical changes to the team that gave France a run for their money, presumably knowing with humble regard for the truth that the All Blacks will win handsomely and wanting to husband their energies for the match against Tonga five days later.
It’s a tough draw – France, New Zealand and Tonga five days later. They will want their best side for then.
On the other hand New Zealand have shown respect for Japan by choosing a strong side. Dan Carter will not be there but he would have been but for an injury niggle.
Richie McCaw (New Zealand) was to have up his century of caps for his country – a milestone for one of the all-time rugby greats, but he was a late injury withdrawal.
Players to Watch:
For New Zealand: You can make your choice of All Blacks to watch according to your interest – anybody from strong Isaia Toeava, a late inclusion for Mils Muliaina who must be disappointed at missing the chance to make up for recent ground lost to Israel Dagg, to Tony Woodcock as he gets further from injury.
For Japan: There are only five of the team back that played France – captain Takashi Kikutani, Michael Leitch, Toshizumi Kitagawa, Koji Taira and Hirotoki Onozawa. The individual who may well be most worth watching is flank Michael Leitch who did so well against France.
Head to Head: Japan’s set-pieces were excellent against France. They scrummed well and won their line-outs. The clash of the tight fives may well be of interest as Japan get further from the overwhelmed little men they once were.
There is just that 145-17 result of 1995.
Prediction: The late changes to the All Blacks with the withdrawals of McCaw and Muliaina will not affect the result: New Zealand to win by more than 40. Certainly it will be an honourable match.
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 (captain), 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 Takehisa Usuzuki, 13 Koji Taira, 12 Yuta Imamura, 11 Hirotoki Onozawa, 10 Murray Williams, 9 Atsushi Hiwasa, 8 Takashi Kikutani (captain), 7 Michael Leitch, 6 Itaru Taniguchi, 5 Toshizumi Kitagawa, 4 Hitoshi Ono, 3 Nozomu Fujita, 2 Yusuke Aoki, 1 Naoki Kawamata.
Replacements: 16 Hiroki Yuhara, 17 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 18 Yuji Kitagawa, 19 Sione Vatuvei, 20 Tomoki Yoshida, 21 Shaun Webb, 22 Alisi Tupuailai.
Date: Friday, September 16
Kick–off: 20.00 (08.00 GMT)
Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Expected weather conditions: 50% chance of rain with a high of 17°C, dropping to 6°C.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Alain Rolland (Ireland), Jérôme Garces (France)
TMO: Giulio De Santis (Italy)
By Paul Dobson