Preview – Japan v Samoa

It isn’t only the battle for the IRB Pacific Nations Cup title that catches the eye in the fourth round of fixtures; another interesting element is the meeting of former All Black team-mates and World Cup winners in Sendai as Japan host Manu Samoa.

The pair are, of course, John Kirwan and Michael Jones, who now wear the head coaching hats of Japan and Manu Samoa respectively, having almost 20 years ago to the day helped New Zealand beat France in the inaugural Rugby World Cup final.

Jones, in an interview with the Japan RFU website earlier this week, admitted that Kirwan “has a very special place in my life” and described him as a “distant brother”. His respect of any side coached by Kirwan was also evident.

“Last year it took us half the game to get our game together against Japan. This year it might take us 80 minutes, regardless of what the statistics and critics say. We are here on a mission and we have brought a lot of Samoan pride with us,” Jones said.

“The reality is that Japan is progressively improving and we have seen this. The team is young and they are fast at what they do. Japan is a very well drilled and disciplined team. It is no doubt since last year they are a different team and are definitely better.

“JK has brought this team to new standards. We must be physical and play with our pride. We must use the only source and naturally given gift that we were given. But we will also have to be smart out there against a John Kirwan Japan side.

“We will go into this game to win, and we hope that whatever the outcome we all will grow from this game in Sendai and a wonderful Pacific Nations Cup tournament.”

Two weeks have passed since Manu Samoa’s last Pacific Nations Cup encounter – a 27-15 defeat by Australia A in Coffs Harbour – with Jones’ side playing World Cup opponents South Africa in Johannesburg last weekend, a match they lost 35-8.

Jones has made a number of changes to his side, not least at halfback with Junior Poluleuligaga and Elvis Seveali’i coming in and Loki Crichton moving from fly half to fullback, while Leo Lafaiali’i taking over the captaincy from Semo Sititi.

Meanwhile, Kirwan has to pick his charges up after a 71-10 loss to Australia A last weekend and, once again, has rung the changes with only four players retained in the starting line-up, although Hare Makiri and Kosuke Endo switch positions.

Both teams won one and lost two matches in this year’s Pacific Nations Cup, Manu Samoa having beaten Fiji 8-5 in their opening match, while Japan overcame Tonga 20-17 in round two. Samoa had the edge a year ago with a 53-9 win in New Plymouth.

Japan: 15 Bryce Robins, 14 Christian Loamanu, 13 Yuta Imamura, 12 Shotaro Onishi, 11 Kosuke Endo, 10 Eiji Endo, 9 Tomoki Yoshida, 8 Takuro Miuchi (c), 7 Glen Marsh, 6 Hare Makiri, 5 Luke Thompson, 4 Hitoshi Ono, 3 Tomokazu Soma, 2 Yuji Matsubara, 1 Tatsukichi Nishiura.
Replacements: 16 Mitsugu Yamamoto, 17 Ryo Yamamura, 18 Takanori Kumagae, 19 Yasunori Watanabe, 20 Yuki Yatomi, 21 Koji Taira, 22 Go Aruga.

Samoa: 15 Loki Crichton, 14 David Lemi, 13 Anitelea Tuilagi, 12 Seilala Maposua, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Elvis Seveali’i, 9 Junior Poluleuligaga, 8 Alfie To’oala, 7 Justin Purdie, 6 Leo Lafaialii (c), 5 Daniel Leo, 4 Iosefa Tekori, 3 Census Johnston, 2 Muliufi Salanoa, 1 Justin Vaa ,
Replacements: 16 Tamato Leupolu, 17 Donald Kerslake, 18 Filipo Levi, 19 Semo Sititi, 20 Steve So’oialo, 21 Josh Keil, 22 Lome Fa’atau.

Date: Saturday, June 16
Venue: Sendai, Japan
Kick-off: 14:00 (05:00 GMT)
Referee: Tim Hayes (Wales)
Touch judges: David Changleng (Scotland), Taizo Hirabayashi (Japan)

With thanks to the IRB  & 365 Digital

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