Japan head into their first really tough test of the calendar year knowing they need to produce a much improved performance if they are to beat a side they will face when they host Rugby World Cup 2019.
Ireland may be missing a number of players, away with the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand, but coach Joe Schmidt can still call on plenty of players with European Cup experience for the game at Shizuoka’s Ecopa Stadium.
Schmidt’s side shows six changes — five in the backs and one in the pack — from the team that started last week’s 55-19 win over the United States in New Jersey.
Blindside flanker Rhys Ruddock captains a team that contains a mix of young players with a handful of caps and experienced campaigners such as Simon Zebo, Keith Earls, Cian Healy and Devin Toner.
The side also contains two uncapped players on the bench in Kieran Treadwell and Rory O’Loughlin.
“I expect many of these players to be here in two year’s time so it is a great opportunity for us to play them in two tests at home,” said Japan coach Jamie Jospeh.
The Irish come into the game having seen Japan beat Romania 33-21 last week and they know the hot and humid weather will play into the hands of the hosts.
“We have been mentally preparing, we know it is going to be horrible and it is going to be challenging,” captain Rhys Ruddock said.
But the Irish will have also seen Japan struggle for 25 minutes with Romania’s power game following a good start that saw them lead 33-9 at one stage.
Joseph has also made changes to his squad following a week that saw Harumichi Tatekawa, Akihito Yamada, Yu Chinen and 98-cap veteran Hitoshi Ono all pull out of the expanded squad with injury.
William Tupou wins his first cap at outside centre and links up with Coca-Cola Red Sparks clubmate Timothy Lafaele (who moves from 13 to 12). Yu Tamura is named at flyhalf, while Kotaro Matsushima is named on the wing in place of Yamada.
There are two changes in the pack, with Keita Inagaki and Heiichiro Ito — who both started last week’s game on the bench — packing down either side of captain Shota Horie in the front row.
On the bench, Shintaro Ishihara and Yutaka Nagare will get their first taste of playing a traditional rugby side, while Joseph has named two flankers among the replacement forwards, in Hendrik Tui and Shuhei Matsuhashi.
“We need to create pressure, help the flow of the game and play fast, unstructured rugby,” Joseph said Friday after his side’s captain’s run at the match venue.
“But we need to be smart in how we conserve our energy, how we use the ball and make sure we use it intelligently.”