Japan to play Five Nations matches abroad

Japan’s 100 percent Asian Five Nations record will be tested this year after last month’s massive earthquake forced them to play all their matches abroad.

The Brave Blossoms totted up more than 300 points in four games in 2010 to make it three tournaments without a loss, and they will be keen to avoid any upsets in the build-up to this year’s World Cup.

But their plans were disrupted by the March 11 quake-and-tsunami catastrophe that destroyed the family homes of two players and forced the team to shift their home game against Sri Lanka to Colombo.

Coach John Kirwan said he had also considered cancelling a pre-tournament training camp before affected forwards Kensuke Hatakeyama and Shinya Makabe urged him to press ahead.

“Their family was in the bad zone and they lost everything. We had doubts over starting our camp, but the two players concerned said they would like to go ahead and said we needed to remain positive,” Kirwan said.

Japan will kick off their campaign against Hong Kong on April 30, before travelling to Bangkok — where they face Kazakhstan — Dubai and then Colombo.

Kirwan said the tournament was perfect preparation for the World Cup, where Japan are drawn in a tough group with hosts New Zealand, France, Tonga and Canada.

“This will be our lead-up to the World Cup and it is important to get everything in place as early as possible,” he told the Asian Five Nations website.

“We are bringing our best team to the Asian Five Nations and I want to see some of the things we want to do as a team functioning smoothly.”

Kazakhstan and Hong Kong will get the tournament’s fourth edition under way in Almaty on Saturday, while Sri Lanka host UAE in Colombo.

Hong Kong have seven new faces in their squad since last year but will field the same team that hammered the Philippine Volcanoes 74-10 this month in Manila.

“We are expecting a big, heavy pack and a very direct game from Kazakhstan,” senior coach Leigh Jones told local media.

“Our set-piece has to perform and we need to be confident of producing good ball for a talented backline.”

The fixture is key for Hong Kong, a rugby bastion due to its colonial past, who last year finished just a point behind Kazakhstan in the race for second spot.

Meanwhile newly promoted Sri Lanka make their debut on the back of a rugby boom that has seen 103,000 people playing regularly, according to a recent study — Asia’s second highest participation after Japan.

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