Japan head coach Jamie Joseph has confirmed his starting XV for Saturday’s encounter with Ireland in Shizuoka (kick-off 2pm local time/6am Irish time). There are five personnel changes and one positional switch to the side that defeated Romania 33-21 last week.
In-form Sunwolves midfielder William Tupou, a rugby league convert from Australia, will make his debut for Japan, linking up with his club-mate Timothy Lafaele who shifts to inside centre.
Yu Tamura joins Fumiaka Tanaka in an experienced half-back partnership that boasts 102 caps, while Kotaro Matsushima will fill the right wing berth vacated by the injured Akihito Yamada. Harumichi Tatekawa, Yu Chinen and 98-times capped lock Hitoshi ‘Iron Man’ Ono are also absent due to injury.
Props Keita Inagaki and Heiichiro Ito are promoted from the bench to join captain Shota Horie, who now has 50 caps to his name, in the front row. Two key men in an unchanged back row are the Chiefs’ Michael Leitch, who captained Japan to that famous 2015 Rugby World Cup win over South Africa, and Tongan-born number 8 Amanaki Lelei Mafi who has starred for the Rebels in Super Rugby this season.
Speaking about the team selection and the fact that he has had to name two flankers on the bench, Jamie Joseph said: “I thought Ryuji Noguchi played well (against Romania) and we wanted to give him another opportunity (at full-back) against strong opposition and see how he reacts under pressure. ‘Matsu’ is another good player and we lost Aki with injury so it’s good to have quality players who can play different positions.
“Losing locks doesn’t help our challenge but we are really pleased with our work this week. We’ve had a look at our maul defence where Romania got on top of us toward the middle stages of the game and put us under a lot of pressure.”
He added: “Ireland are a strong team that put 50-odd points on a very committed USA side. Their set piece is strong, both scrum and lineout, and a real threat to our game. But we know they are strong so our focus has been about playing our way and developing our game.”
The eagerly-awaited first Test between Japan and Ireland kicks off at 2pm local time/6am Irish time and will be broadcast live on eir Sport 2 in Ireland and Premier Sports in the UK.
JAPAN Team & Replacements (v Ireland, 2017 Summer Tour First Test, Ecopa Stadium, Shizuoka, Saturday, June 17, kick-off 2pm local time/6am Irish time):
15. Ryuji Noguchi (Tokai University) 9
14. Kotaro Matsushima (Suntory Sungoliath) 23
13. William Tupou (Coca-Cola Red Sparks) *
12. Timothy Lafaele (Coca-Cola Red Sparks) 5
11. Kenki Fukuoka (Panasonic Wild Knights) 18
10. Yu Tamura (Canon Eagles) 43
9. Fumiaka Tanaka (Panasonic Wild Knights) 59
1. Keita Inagaki (Panasonic Wild Knights) 14
2. Shota Horie (Panasonic Wild Knights) (capt) 50
3. Heiichiro Ito (Yamaha Jubilo) 5
4. Kotaro Yatabe (Panasonic Wild Knights) 13
5. Uwe Helu (Yamaha Jubilo) 4
6. Michael Leitch (Toshiba Brave Lupus) 48
7. Yoshitaka Tokunaga (Toshiba Brave Lupus) 5
8. Amanaki Lelei Mafi (NTT Communications) 14
16. Yusuke Niwai (Canon Eagles) 1
17. Shintaro Ishihara (Suntory Sungoliath) 4
18. Takuma Asahara (Toshiba Brave Lupus) 5
19. Hendrik Tui (Suntory Sungoliath) 38
20. Shuhei Matsuhashi (Ricoh Black Rams) 6
21. Yutaka Nagare (Suntory Sungoliath) 4
22. Derek Carpenter (Suntory Sungoliath) 1
23. Rikiya Matsuda (Panasonic Wild Knights) 7
* Denotes uncapped player