[ Japan v Romania ] Japan open their June test window Saturday by taking on Romania at Egao Kenko Stadium, one of the 12 venues for Rugby World Cup 2019.
Following the game in the Kyushu city of Kumamoto, Jamie Joseph’s side head north to take on Ireland in a two-match series at two other RWC venues (in Shizuoka and Tokyo).`
But thoughts right now are only on the Oaks, who could well be in Japan’s pool come 2019.
“I saw them push Georgia around, they have a very strong scrum,” Joseph said of the Romanians. “We need to stick to our guns and play our way and not take them on at their game.”
Joseph sprung a few surprises when naming his team leaving a number of experienced players on the bench.
“Later on in the game both teams will be tired. We need experience to come on and lead the team in crucial parts of the game and we need players who can exploit space and opportunities,”Joseph said.
With Harumichi Tatekawa ruled out due to injury, Shota Horie leads the team, which contains two new caps in inside centre Derek Carpenter and back-up hooker Yusuke Niwai.
Former captain Michael Leitch and Amanaki Lelei Mafi both return to the back row, while another overseas Super Rugby player, Hendrik Tui, joins Keita Inagaki, Yu Tamura and Kotaro Matsushima on the replacement bench.
Romania for their part have based their forward pack on the side that beat Georgia earlier this year in the Rugby Europe Championship, though head coach Lynn Howells has also included a number of up and coming players.
“We are trying to develop and strengthen the squad so we have enough players when we come to the World Cup,” he said.
The Welshman has also included a number of Pacific islanders in the hope Romania can develop a number of different styles of rugby.
“They make a big difference,” he said of centres Sione Fakaosilea and Paula Kinikinilau and wing Fonovai Tangimana.
“Not just because of their rugby ability but because they influence the Romanian players who learn a style of rugby that is not normal for them.”
With the heat and humidity expected to play a role, Japan will look to play their high-tempo game with scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka likely to be a key figure and Akihito Yamada and Kenki Fukuoka providing plenty of pace on the wings.
Romania, meanwhile, will look to slow the ball down and use their forwards and big backs to create holes in the Japan defense.
It should be a fascinating game, and one that could well be repeated in two years time at Rugby World Cup 2019, as Romania are likely to qualify as the top European side and join Japan in Pool A.
Story By : Rich Freeman