Japan aim to pull clear as tension rises
May 6, 2010
Colin Bisley returns for Hong Kong © Getty Images
The third round of the Asian Five Nations brings a make-or-break tie in the race for second place as Kazakhstan and Hong Kong face off, while Japan look to keep their march to the World Cup alive with a tie against the Arabian Gulf in Tokyo.
Having watched his side steamroll Korea 71-13 last weekend thanks to five tries from wing Kosuke Endo, Japan coach John Kirwan has nevertheless opted to ring the changes. Lock Luke Thompson replaces Hitoshi Ono, flanker Masakazu Toyota is given the nod ahead of Touetsu Taufa and centre Alisi Tupuailei is preferred to Ryan Nicholas.
At halfback, Tomoki Yoshida and Newport Gwent Dragons fly-half James Arlidge form a new partnership, while Kaoru Matushita lines up for his third cap at fullback. "We want to give everyone an opportunity," Kirwan said. "But we have to balance not putting the World Cup at risk."
The Gulf secured a hard-fought 16-9 victory over Hong Kong last weekend and will need their defensive effort to be similarly well-drilled if they are to frustrate Japan. Scrum-half Jonny MacDonald, who scored the sole try against Hong Kong, and accurate fly-half James Love must also chip in around the fringes.
For Hong Kong, their meeting with Kazakhstan at the Hong Kong Football Club is a must-win if they are to keep alive their hopes of second place and a spot in the cross-continental play-off for a spot at the World Cup.
They currently lead the way on seven points, but defeat to Kazakhstan would see them cut adrift as their opponents also possess a valuable game in hand. Tight-head Nigel Hobler returns for the first time this season while Colin Bisley replaces Alex McQueen at fullback.
"I have a 5-2 split favouring forwards on the bench. This is our third game in a fortnight and there will be a lot of tired bodies out there. We had to make sure we had energy on the bench," Rees said. "Both Nigel and Colin will bring loads of experience and balance to the team,"
Kazakhstan will be relying on No. 8 Timur Mashurov to provide plenty of grunt, particularly as combative flanker Anton Rudoy has not made the trip to Hong Kong due to club commitments in Russia. Rudoy bagged a hat-trick in the opener against the Arabian Gulf.
"Our goal is to finish in second place and at all costs not to finish worst than last season. If we finish in second place, we still have a chance of making it to the World Cup," Kazakhstan coach Valeriy Popov said.
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