Preview – Fiji v Japan

Japan face Fiji in the Pacific Nations Cup on Saturday, a side they haven’t beaten since 1994 – when they won back to back Tests on home soil – and one they will face again at Rugby World Cup 2007 in their Pool B encounter in Toulouse on September 12.

Both sides will have a different look in France with Fiji coach Ilivasi Tabua having kept faith with his young team that narrowly lost to Samoa last weekend, despite the availability of some of his star names for the Japan match.

Even so Japan coach John Kirwan believes the match, and PNC as a whole, is invaluable.

“Looking at the World Cup both sides will be trying to get a gauge to where we are at,” Kirwan told the Fiji Times.

“It’s important that we show that we are changing, that we are getting better. We need to go out there and do the things that we have been doing at training.

“We have Fiji in our pool, so it’s an important game for us and it is for Fiji. It’s a great tournament for all the nations. This tournament is perfect for us. Everyone needs a good build up and the Pacific Nations competition is a very good one.”

Kirwan is promising an “exciting game” as he wants Japan to play the free-flowing rugby that Fiji are renowned for, but also deny the home side a glut of possession to weave their magic and repeat the 29-15 victory they enjoyed in last year’s competition in Osaka.

“We would like to play a similar style of rugby to Fiji on Saturday,” added Kirwan, whose side played the Classic All Blacks twice in their build up to this tournament.

“We would like to play an expensive game, so I think the Fijian supporters will enjoy it.”

His Fijian counterpart Tabua had a couple of injury concerns earlier in the over Kele Leawere (lower arm strain) and Vereniki Goneva (sickness), prompting him to add Ifereimi Rawaqa and Michael Tagicakibau to his squad.

However, the Fiji head coach has largely gone with the team that ran Samoa close in appalling conditions in Apia last weekend. In that match a number of players made their international debuts having impressed in the Pacific Rugby Cup.

“That [Samoa game] was a positive experience for the Fiji boys,” he said to the Fiji Times.

“We fielded only three players with 10 caps or more, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more from these players. This is something we can build on.”

Tabua hands New Zealand-based prop Graham Dewes his debut as Alefoso Yalayalatabua is rested, while flanker Netani Talei starts ahead of Akapusi Qera, and Bill Gadolo takes the hooker’s jersey. Wame Lewaravu starts at lock with Japan-based Ifereimi Rawaqa joining the bench as Kele Leawere is also rested. Fly-half Vitori Buatava is the only change in the backline as he pushes Jack Prasad to the bench.

Fiji: 15 Taniela Rawaqa, 14 Vesi Rauluni, 13 Vereniki Goneva, 12 Dan Baleinadogo , 11 Isoa Neivua, 10 Vitori Buatava, 9 Seveci Taka, 8 Tomasi Soqeta, 7 Netani Talei, 6 Alifereti Doviverata (capt), 5 Wame Lewaravu, 4 Langi Peters, 3 Tiko Matawalu, 2 Bill Gadolo, 1 Graham Dewes.
Replacements: 16 Sunia Koto, 17 Apisai Turukawa, 18 Akapusi Qera, 19 Ifereimi Rawaqa, 20 Jack Prasad, 21 Gabiriele Lovobalavu, 22 Marika Vakacegu.

Japan: squad:

Forwards: Masahito Yamamoto, Tatsukichi Nishiura, Yuji Matsubara, Mitsugu Yamamoto, Yusuki Aoki, Ryo Yamamura, Tomokazu Soma, Hitoshi Ono, Takanori Kumagae, Tsuyoshi Sato, Luke Thompson, Yasunori Watanabe, Hajime Kiso, Hare Makiri, Glen Marsh, Takamichi Sasaki, Takuro Miuchi.

Backs: Koichi Ohigashi, Yuki Yatomi, Tomoki Yoshida, Eiji Ando, Kousei Ono, Hirotoki Onozawa, Shotaro Onishi, Bryce Robins, Yuta Imamura, Koji Taira, Kosuke Endo, Christian Loamanu, Goshi Tachikawa.

Date: Saturday May 26
Venue: Lautoka
Kick-off: 13:00 (00:00GMT)
Match officials: tbc

With thanks

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