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New Zealand v Japan, Rugby World Cup, September 16
Japan face mammoth task
ESPNscrum Staff
September 13, 2011
All Blacks winger Cory Jane celebrates his try, New Zealand v South Africa, Tri-Nations, Westpac Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand, July 30, 2011
Cory Jane comes on to the wing for the All Blacks © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Sir Graham Henry | Cory Jane | John Kirwan
Tournaments/Tours: IRB Rugby World Cup
Teams: Japan | New Zealand

Hosts New Zealand look to make it two from two against John Kirwan's Japan in Auckland on Friday.

The Kiwis kicked off their campaign with a 41-10 win over the Tongans. While at the time it seemed like the hosts had failed to find their top gear, with the rest of the tournament favourites seeming decidedly tepid in their opening clashes - bar the Wallabies - the Kiwi public will in hindsight be pleased with their opening win over the physical Tongans.

Kirwan's Japan impressed against the French with the eventual 47-21 return very flattering for Marc Lievremont's charges. James Arlidge was one of the standout players of the opening round at fly-half - scoring all of Japan's points. But he, like Dan Carter, will sit out the clash as both sides aim to shuffle their pack in a bid to keep their key players fit. Japan received two blows prior to Friday's clash with the news that No.8 Ryukoliniashi Holani and lock Justin Ives were both ruled out of the competition.

Japan had previously targeted two wins from four in their pool stages and following the Brave Blossoms' performance against France this seems likely. But with hosts New Zealand aiming to once and for all put the title of 'chokers' behind them, they will be going all out against Japan with the aim of laying down a marker to the rest of the teams currently residing in the Antipodes.

NZ - Player to Watch: Cory Jane is back in the side and despite Twitter withdrawal symptoms, he will be going all out to prove to Graham Henry that he should be charged with a wing berth despite Richard Kahui and Israel Dagg impressing in the opening clash of the World Cup.

NZ - Team News: The All Blacks have been rocked by the loss of three players who had been pencilled in to start in Hamilton - Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Mils Muliaina. Carter misses out because of a back problem, so that means a start at fly-half for Colin Slade. McCaw's withdrawal because of a calf strain prompts a back-row reshuffle, with Adam Thomson switching to the openside and Victor Vito slotting in at No.8. Finally, the loss of Muliaina (tight hamstring) sees Isaia Toeava take over at fullback because, in a further blow for the All Blacks, Israel Dagg has been ruled out with a right abdominal strain. Elsewhere, Conrad Smith retuns in midfield at the expense of Sonny Bill Williams, while Jane and Kahui take the wing berths. Andy Ellis will partner Slade in the half-backs. In the pack, Sam Whitelock partners Brad Thorn in the second-row, with Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu and Owen Franks forming the front-row.

Japan - Player to Watch: Atsushi Hiwasa was named the emerging player of the Asian Five Nations and following a second-half cameo against France, he will look to make an impact against the All Blacks on Friday.

Japan - Team News: Kirwan has opted to make ten changes in personnel for the clash. However, Takashi Kikutani continues as captain, although he has been switched to No.8 to accommodate the inclusion of Itaru Taniguchi at blindside flanker. Michael Leitch holds on to the openside flanker berth. Hitoshi Ono comes into the second row, while Naoki Kawamata, Yusuke Aoki and Nozomu Fujita form an all-new front-row. Behind the scrum, Koji Taira will again start in midfield but this week he has been paired with Yuta Imamura. Hirotoki Onozawa keeps his place on the left wing and he will be joined in the back three by Taihei Ueda, who will wear 15, and Takehisa Usuzuki. Murray Williams and Atsushi Hiwasa are the chosen half-back pairing.

Key Battle: Kakatuni shifts to No.8 for the clash and will be up against the versatile Thomson. Having struggled with injury, the Highlanders back-row will hope to prove his fitness and form to the selectors so expect fireworks at the back of the scrum.

Trivia: Japan have only won one game in the World Cup - against Zimbabwe back in 1991.

Stats: Injury has denied Richie McCaw the opportunity to make history this weekend as he had been set to become the first Kiwi to reach 100 caps for the All Blacks.

Quote Unquote:

"It's disappointing to have the players unavailable, especially Richie and Mils who were both looking forward to playing against Japan. But injuries are something that we all have to deal with and it's great that we have versatility in the squad so Isaia is able to slot in at fullback."
- All Blacks head coach Graham Henry is remaining upbeat despite the loss of so many players to injury

" The All Blacks get inside the head of many of their opponents with the haka. It's important that we don't let the haka get to us so we can play our style of rugby "
- Japan's winger Takehisa Usuzuki does his upmost to ignore the intimidating Maori war dance.

Prediction: Despite Japan's heartening performance against France, expect the All Blacks to despatch Kirwan's side with ease.

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