Japan out to record second RWC win
September 19, 2011
Tonga will look to Siale Piutau for inspiration in the centres © Getty Images
Japan go into their match with Tonga in Whangarei on Wednesday looking to make a start to coach John Kirwan's pre-World Cup aim of winning two of their four Pool A games.
Following defeats to France and the All Blacks in their two opening games of the 2011 global gathering, you could be forgiven to suggest that Kirwan's charges would be feeling down-hearted. However - in both matches - despite losing 83-7 to New Zealand and 47-21 to France - Japan were much better than the score line suggested. Despite their clear improvement from previous World Cups - which has seen them win just once - Kirwan's side have been ravaged by injury with him having five of his original 30-man squad sidelined.
Despite this, Japan have experienced a huge upturn in their recent form seeing them scoop the Pacific Nations Cup and the Asian Five Nations in 2011. And with this in mind, Tonga will be all too aware of the threats that the Asian side pose.
Tonga faced Japan back in July 2011 losing out 28-27 in an epic encounter and similar to Japan have opened their World Cup campaign with two losses. Falling at the opening hurdle to the All Blacks was widely expected though they would have hoped to have taken the Canucks' scalp last Wednesday. However, they ran into a resolute Canada side who took the points on offer and impressed from start-to-finish against Isitolo Maka's charges. Maka faced criticism in the wake of the clash due to his chop-and-change policy when it comes to team selection, though this has not deterred the former New Zealand international from adopting a similar policy for Wednesday's clash.
With Tonga's final pool game against France lying in wait and with Japan still waiting to record their opening win of the 2011 campaign, expect fireworks in every facet of the match.
Japan - Player to Watch: James Arlidge has been in sensational form for Japan thus far in the World Cup and starting at fly-half he will hope to replicate his side's opening clash against France where he scored all of their points.
Japan - Team News: Kirwan has named 13 of the line-up which took to the field against France in their World Cup opener. The only two players to miss out are the injured duo Ryukoliniasi Holani and Koji Taira. Holani has been despatched home though Kirwan will hope to call upon Taira for their final group match against Canada. Elsewhere, Shaun Webb starts at fullback with Kosuke Endo and Hirotoki Onozawa taking the wing spots. Alisi Tupuailai and Ryan Nicholas take the centre spots with Arlidge and Fumiaki Tanaka at half-backs. Takashi Kikutani captains the side from No.8 with Michael Leitch and Itaru Taniguchi lining up on the flanks. Luke Thompson and Toshizumi Kitagawa start in the second-row while Hisateru Hirashima, Shota Horie and Kensuke Hatakeyama form the front-row.
Tonga - Player to Watch: Kurt Morath is back at fly-half for the Test and he will be aiming to prove to his coach that he is capable of running the game from the half-back spot after being shifted to fullback for the Canada game.
Tonga - Team News: Coach Isitolo Maka has been forced to omit his brother and captain Finau due to a rib injury. Elsewhere, Kurt Morath is reinstated at fly-half with Taneila Moa moving back to scrum-half. Vunga Lilo takes Morath's spot at fullback with Fetu'u Vainikolo and Sukanaivalu Hufanga starting on the wing. Maka misses out on selection with Viliami Ma'afu starting at No.8 and Sione Kalamafoni coming in at blindside. Paino Hehea starts in the second-row while the front-row has the familiar look to it with Soane Tonga'uiha, Taufa'ao Filise and new skipper Aleki Lutui reunited.
Key Battle: Fetu'u Vainikolo has the experience to thrive on the international scene having played for the Highlanders in Super Rugby but faces Hirotoki Onozawa who will be going all out to make it two tries in two World Cup matches.
Trivia: Tonga and Japan have both scored at least one try in all 12 of their previous meetings with each other.
Stats: Tonga have only held the lead at the break in three of their 19 World Cup matches. On each occasion they have gone on to win the match.
"This is the World Cup, so it'll be different from the PNC. I expect it to be a lot more aggressive, especially the first 20 to 30 minutes. Both of us have lost our first two games, so the match will be crucial for the two sides."
"I was very impressed with the way they played France. I knew that was the team they would play against us. I knew they would play their second team against the All Blacks. So you can't read much into the All Blacks game."
Prediction: Japan were in fine form previous to the tournament. Despite being on the wrong end of results against France and New Zealand, expect them to bounce back against Tonga.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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