Jamie Joseph makes four changes to the Brave Blossom starting XV that defeated Russia 30-10 in the World Cup opening match last Friday. One of those changes sees captain and flanker Michael Leitch, just back from injury, drop to the bench alongside Asaeli Ai Valu, Lomano Lemeki and Wimpie van der Walt.
New Zealand-born Luke Thompson, the oldest player in the tournament (38), goes the other way into the line-up, as does prop Jiwon Koo, fit-again No.8 Amanaki Mafi and Ryohei Yamanaka who takes over at full-back.
As a result, last week’s number 15 William Tupou switches to the wing for the first time in his Test career. Tupou made all of his previous Japan appearances at full-back and centre.
With Leitch dropping down to the bench, fellow flanker Pieter Labuschagne takes over the captaincy. Nicknamed ‘Lappies’, the South African-born forward is the third foreign-born player to captain Japan in a World Cup after Andrew McCormick (NZ) and Michael Leitch (NZ) and head coach Joseph hopes his command of English will help communication with referee Angus Gradner.
Joe Schmidt retains 11 of the players who started against Scotland in their opening Pool A match on Sunday in Yokohama. The incoming quartet are all in the backline with Rob Kearney for Jordan Larmour at full-back, Keith Earls for Andrew Conway on the right wing, Chris Farrell for inside centre instead of Bundee Aki and Jack Carty in at fly-half as Johnny Sexton sits out having missed Tuesday’s training session following a bang on the thigh against the Scots.
It is an unchanged pack of forwards after Peter O’Mahony was promoted from the bench to retain his place at blindside flanker following a foot injury to Jack Conan. Conan was due to start at No.8 with CJ Stander switched to O’Mahony’s position but the injury means Ireland’s pack stays intact from last week. Cian Healy, Rory Best and Tadhg Furlong start together in the front row for the 15th time, with hooker Best captaining Ireland for the 36th time, equalling Keith Wood’s mark as skipper. The second row sees James Ryan reunited with Iain Henderson, who will make his 50th Test appearance when he takes the field in Shizuoka.
Rob Kearney, 92 caps, and Keith Earls, 78 caps, return from minor injuries to replace Jordan Larmour and Andrew Conway at full-back and right wing respectively. Both Larmour and Conway had very good outings against Scotland and Schmidt put the onus on their experienced replacements to match last Sunday’s input in the 14 and 15 jerseys.
“I guess bring the same energy as those guys brought,” Schmidt said yesterday.
“I thought Jordan did that incredibly well. I thought his coverage of the pitch was incredibly good in very difficult conditions. Because it was so slippery on top, once he was moving in one direction, it was actually pretty hard to turn around and cover another corner and he did it really well on the couple of occasions he had to. Rob will be looking to do that. Earlsy has been incredibly sharp in training and we’d expect him to bring that sharpness to the game.”