Kirwan makes 11 Japan changes for France

Japan coach John Kirwan has made eleven changes to his team’s starting lineup for their opening Rugby World Cup match against France on Saturday.


Lock Luke Thompson, flanker Takashi Kikutani, winger Hirotoki Onozawa and center Ryan Nicholas kept their places after playing in the 20-14 warmup win over the United States last month.


“I believe the team is about 30,” said Kirwan, referring to his entire squad. “If you want to be successful at the World Cup you need a strong side. These guys are the guys in form at the moment, so they’ve got the start.”


Kirwan, one of the finest wingers to have played for New Zealand, clearly is not scared to shake up his team.


Besides, he is more worried about impressing one particular spectator at North Harbour Stadium than the feelings of the players he left out.


“I’m under added pressure on Saturday night because my mum’s coming,” Kirwan said. “She’s 82 and she knows the game.”


Thompson and winger Kosuke Endo are the only two players remaining from the team that started Japan’s last World Cup match against Canada in 2007.


Veteran winger Hirotoki Onozawa, playing in his third World Cup, will match the World Cup appearance record for a Japanese player in his ninth match – equaling Masahiro Kunda (1991-1999) and Yukio Motoki (1995-2003).


Japan has played France only twice before, in 1973 and at the 2003 World Cup, when France won 51-29.


“It’s difficult to compare because the teams are so different,” Onozawa said. “But we’ve clearly improved since then. We have our goals for the tournament and I think it’s obvious that we’ve made progress towards those goals.”


Hooker Shota Horie is looking forward to taking on his opposite number, William Servat, rated among the world’s best hookers and a key player in France’s redoubtable pack.


“You don’t get an opportunity to play a team like France that often,” Horie said. “It’s time for us to go out there and do our jobs.”


After France, Japan faces No. 1-ranked New Zealand, Tonga and Canada in Pool A matches.


“The most important thing for us is to be the most improved team at this World Cup,” Kirwan said. “To do that we need to be competitive on Saturday night and next Friday night and …”


Japan:


Shaun Webb, Kosuke Endo, Koji Taira, Ryan Nicholas, Hirotoki Onozawa, James Arlidge, Fumiaki Tanaka; Hisateru Hirashima, Shota Horie, Kensuke Hatakeyama, Luke Thompson, Toshizumi Kitagawa, Takashi Kikutani, Michael Leitch, Ryukoliniasi Holani.


Reserves: Yusuke Aoki, Nozomu Fujita, Hitoshi Ono, Itaru Taniguchi, Atsushi Hiwasa, Murray Williams, Alisi Tupuailai.

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