The Wallabies play Japan in Japan almost two years to the day from when the Rugby World Cup Final will be being played in the same venue. As much as we’d like to think this may be a wonderful bit of ‘good for the global game’ decision making, it is far more likely to be a simple 2019 reconnaissance mission.
The match will be an opportunity to build on the positives the gained from their defeat of New Zealand in Brisbane a couple of weeks ago (ignoring some of the negatives of the late win over the Barbarians last weekend). At least we are doing better than the Japanese who played their own version of the Barbarians – a ‘World XV’ – last weekend. And lost.
The Aussies have suffered some significant late blows, with Bernard Foley (illness), Karmichael Hunt (neck) and Will Genia (calf) all unavailable for selection. As it stands the star of Bledisloe 3, Reece Hodge, inherits the 10 jersey and will combine with Nick Phipps in the halves. With Israel Folau also out Kurtley Beale reverts to fullback, while Henry Speight is recalled to take over Hodge’s wing spot. The forward remain much the same as faced the kiwis with Ned Hanigan the only new face for Jack Dempsey. Matt Philip has been named on the bench for what will be his test debut if he takes the field.
The Japanese have caught a bit of the Wallaby disease by naming a bunch of flyhalves in their backline. Rikiya Matsuda will start with the 10 on his back with a couple of capable flyhalves outside him in Harumichi Tatekawa (who has spent time with the Brumbies) and Timothy Lafaele. There is plenty of Super Rugby talent in the team with the Aussies being wary of the backrow in particular where Amanaki Lelei Mafi and Michael Leitch will combine whole hooker, Shota Horie, and scrumhalf, Fumiaki Tanaka, have had their own Super Rugby experiences.
Adam Coleman needs to bring the physicality this weekend. His role is to be the Wallaby enforcer and it’s games such as these that needs to ensure he brings his A-game to inspire the rest of his team to do the same. He has a pretty handy 17cm height advantage over his opposite number, Kazuki Himeno, so the lineout should be good. But we need his power game across the park, on both sides of the ball, to set the agenda early and often for the Wallabies. It’s probably a tad boring to say it but Amanaki Mafi is pretty crucial. The guy was brilliant for the Rebels this year and beat all Aussies to win the Australian Super Rugby Player of the Year award last week. His running game needs to be nullified by the Aussies every damn time he gets the ball to ensure the home team doesn’t get a roll on and unleash their speedy outside backs.
A bit of history:
Here’s a few harmless (useless?) facts for you. Australia have only played Japan four times. Back in 1975 they toured and played tests in Sydney and Brisbane. Since it has only been at Rugby World Cups including 1987 (in Sydney) and 2007 (Lyon). That 2007 game set a lot of records for matches between these two countries including highest score (91-3); biggest margin (88) and most conversions by a team (9) and player (7 by Stirling Mortlock). Rocky Elsom scored three tries that game to equal the record set by winger John Ryan (on debut) back in 1975 in Brisbane. Paul McLean’s 21 points in the Sydney test of that season (two tries, five conversions and a penalty goal) remains the most points scored by a Wallaby in a test against Japan. Stephen Moore is the only player in this Wallaby squad to have played a test match against Japan, also coming off the bench in 2007. Embed from Getty Images
Australia to win relatively easily still giving us ‘fans’ enough to whinge about. They should do it by 30.
Japan: 1. Keita Inagaki, 2. Shota Horie, 3. Takuma Asahara, 4 Kazuki Himeno, 5. Hell Uve, 6. Michael Leitch [C], 7. Kousaku Shinsuke, 8. Amanaki Mafi, 9. Shiro Tanaka, 10. Rikiya Matsuda, 11. Ryuji Noguchi, 12. Rikichi Tachikawa, 13. Timothy Lafaele, 14. Lomano Lava Lemeki, 15. Kotaro Matsushima
Replacements: 16. Atsushi Sakate , 17. Koki Yamamoto, 18. Asaeli Ai Valu, 19. Wimpie Van Der Walt, 20. Fetuani Lautaimi, 21. Yutaka Nagare, 22. Yu Tamura, 23. Sione Teaupa
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Reece Hodge, 9 Nic Phipps, 8 Sean McMahon, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Matt Philip, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Lopeti Timani, 22 Joe Powell, 23 Curtis Rona
Date: Saturday, November 4
Venue: International Stadium, Yokohama
Kick-off: 14:40 local (05:40 GMT)
OZ Broadcast: 16:40 (AEDT) Live on Fox Sports
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Tim Baker (Hong Kong)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)