Japan on brink of retaining Five nations crown

John Kirwan’s Japan will retain their Asian Five Nations crown if they beat South Korea on Saturday, reinforcing their position as the region’s dominant team.

South Korea currently lead the standings by a point but their shock 30-27 defeat in their opening match to Kazakhstan and Japan having a game in hand means victory would put Kirwan’s side out of reach.

With the Pacific Nations Cup very much in the mind of the players and coaches, a number of changes have been made to the side that defeated Hong Kong 59-6 in round two.

Luke Thompson returns to the second row while Takashi Kikutani, who once again leads the side, keeps his place at No. 8. Tomoki Yoshida becomes the third scrum-half to be used in as many games.

The only real surprise in the starting line-up is in the backs where Ayumu Goromaru has been picked on the wing, with Jack Tarrant keeping his place at fullback.

Meanwhile, Hirotoki Onozawa will become just the fourth Japanese to play 50 times for his country, following in the footsteps of Daisuke Ohata (58 caps), Takeomi Ito (62) and Yukio Motoki (79).

“We have prepared well and as this is the last home game of the season, I hope a good crowd come out to watch us,” said Kikutani.

“But we have to make sure we play for the full 80 minutes.”


The Koreans outscored Japan in the second half during the tournament in Incheon last year before going down 39-17, but it proved they can put up a challenge.

However, after their crushing defeat this year to Kazahkstan and a narrow 36-34 win over Hong Kong last week, their position as Asia’s number two team is under threat.

In Saturday’s other match, Hong Kong will be desperate to build on running Korea close when they take on minnows Singapore at home.

Hong Kong picked up their first points of the tournament — one bonus point for scoring more than four tries and another for losing within seven points — against Korea but are languishing in fourth place.

It leaves them just a point clear of Singapore in the race to avoid being relegated and missing out on next year’s tournament that will act as the Asian qualifiers for the World Cup in New Zealand.

Hong Kong coach Dai Rees has made two changes with centre Simon Hempel returning after missing last weekend while awaiting the birth of his first child. Angus Washington gets a start at lock with Ivan Zenovic benched.


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