Kirwan puts faith in Rookie

Japan coach John Kirwan has named rookie fly-half Kosei Ono in his starting line-up for the Rugby World Cup clash against Pool B giants Australia in Lyon on Saturday.

The Cherry Blossoms have been hard hit by injuries in the lead up to the World Cup and the 20-year-old Ono has been thrust into the playmaker’s role following a knee injury to Japan’s first-choice fly-half Eiji Ando.

Ando was forced off the pitch with ligament damage to his right knee in the final warm-up game against Portugal played in Italy in August.

The situation at fly-half is most critical for Japan after James Arlidge – Ando’s understudy – was also ruled out with a broken left leg.

Ono, who has only four international caps to his name following his debut in April, has been brought up to speed on Australia’s veteran fly-half Stephen Larkham.

Kirwan has sat with his young pivot and shown him Larkham’s attributes through detailed video analysis, but the diminutive fly-half scoffs at any suggestion of a chink in the veteran’s armour.

“He doesn’t have any (weaknesses), he is a pretty solid player,” said Ono, who has lived in New Zealand since the age of three, but recently returned to Japan.

“It is a privilege to play against someone of that calibre but we are not looking at individual players, we are looking at the Australian team in general during our preparation.”

Captain Takuro Miuchi is also a huge loss for the Japanese. The captaincy now falls on flanker Takamichi Sasaki who took over the skipper duties for the first time against Australia A in the Pacific Nations Cup in June.

Japan: 15 Tatsuya Kusumi, 14 Tomoki Kitagawa, 13 Koji Taira, 12 Nataniela Oto, 11 Hirotoki Onozawa, 10 Kosei Ono, 9 Yuki Yatomi, 8 Hajime Kiso, 7 Takamichi Sasaki (c), 6 Yasunori Watanabe, 5 Luatangi Samurai Vatuvei, 4 Takanori Kumagae, 3 Ryo Yamamura, 2 Taku Inokuchi, 1 Masahito Yamamoto
Replacements: 16 Yuji Matsubara, 17 Tomokazu Soma, 18 Hitoshi Ono, 19 Hare Makiri, 20 Tomoki Yoshida, 21 Yuta Imamura, 22 Kosuke Endo

Date: Saturday, 8 September
Kick-off: 13:45 (12:45 BST)
Venue: Stade Gerland, Lyon
Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland)
Touch judges: Dave Pearson (England), Hugh Watkins (Wales)
Television match official: Malcolm Changleng (Scotland)
Assessor: Bob Francis (New Zealand)

365 Digital

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