The big noise at Hamilton will be over All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw becoming the first man from his country to reach the 100-cap milestone.
DATE: Friday September 16, 2011
KICK-OFF: 2000 NZST (1800AEST)
VENUE: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
HEAD-TO-HEAD: Japan 0, New Zealand 1.
HEAD-TO-HEAD IN WORLD CUPS: Japan 0, New Zealand 1.
LAST TIME: June 4, 1995 (Bloemfontein, RWC) Japan 17-145 New Zealand.
Japan have done what they promised, which was to make wholesale changes for this match. Only five of the starting line-up against France have been named again and one of those, captain Takashi Kikutani, moves from the side of the scrum to No 8.
New Zealand originally planned to make seven changes from the team that played Tonga, with the fit-again Adam Thomson being included at No 8. Apart from a couple of places, this was starting to look something like the top All Black lineup but then Daniel Carter withdrew with back spasms. Colin Slade takes over and all three squad scrum-halfs are in the matchday 22, with Piri Weepu the fly-half cover and Slade the utility back.
Lost to France 21-47
Beat Tonga 41-10
Japan played well against France and, with 10 minutes to go, was in with a shout of causing a major upset. John Kirwan later talked of a window that opened but Japan could only score three points in that time, but from the sideline it appeared that it slammed shut when Fumiaki Tanaka, who was playing superbly at halfback, was replaced with about quarter of an hour to go. Japan never threatened after that change, although three late tries to France made the game look a lot easier than it had been.
The All Blacks had Tonga on the ropes at halftime, when they led 29-3, but eased off in the second spell and eventually won 41-10. One hesitates to say ‘only’ won by that score but there was that feel about it, as if New Zealand had not done as much as it might have in a second half that saw Tonga give the locals a hard time.
There was much comment about the All Blacks’ offloading afterwards but there were possibly too many circus tricks when orthodox rugby skills would have served equally as well in most cases and better in several; ball security was not a highlight.
WHO'S HOT/PLAYER TO WATCH:
Japan skipper Takashi Kikutani has a huge job in this match, as he will be without most of his senior lieutenants against the world’s top-ranked team. An outstanding player and highly-regarded leader, he will probably be Japan’s main lineout man, asked to make a lot of tackles and to carry the ball up into the hardest part of the New Zealand defence. All that is a normal day’s work for Kikutani, who will also have the task of making sure his team keeps its shape throughout what promises to be a torrid match.
The New Zealand selectors will be looking hard at Tony Woodcock’s play in this match, as sooner rather than later a definitive call has to be made on his form. He has suffered an injury-ravaged year and has not long returned to action, with most of his subsequent matches being closer to half games than full ones. For years Woodcock was the world’s best in his position but he hasn’t touched that form in 2011; unless he recaptures it very soon, it may be time for the torch to be passed.
It is never far away from the discussion when this game is talked about, and New Zealand’s 145-17 mauling of Japan in 1995 is far from forgotten. "As soon as we found out that we were playing New Zealand, that defeat crossed everyone's minds," Japan lock Toshizumi Kitagawa said. "But we're determined to show how much we've improved since then." More to the point, that 1995 All Black performance was almost flawless and would have been near impossible for anyone to play against.
Although Graham Henry was doing his best to make few waves in the pre-match press chat, his observations about Japan were both right and wrong. "They are physical at the breakdown, play the game at speed and will be a real threat if we let them play like that," Henry said. "We need to play at our pace, which is reasonably quick." That is the way Japan prefer to play, to be sure, but it is also a style of game New Zealand is very familiar with and hardly one they should feel threatened by.
Even before Japan named a team that looks decidedly second-string this was going to be a match where they would be doing well to hold the New Zealand score down, but it really is hard to see anything other than a very large All Black win in this game; perhaps rain and wind might be the levellers here. If not, this one might reach blow-out proportions and New Zealand by 50+ is hard to argue against.
Japan: 1. Naoki Kawamata, 2. Yusuke Aoki, 3. Nozomu Fujita, 4. Hitoshi Ono, 5 Toshizumi Kitagawa, 6. Itaru Taniguchi, 7. Michael Leitch, 8. Takashi Kikutani (capt), 9. Atsushi Hiwasa, 10. Murray Williams, 11. Hirotoki Onozawa, 12. Yuta Imamura, 13. Koji Taira, 14. Takehisa Usuzuki, 15. Taihei Ueda.
Reserves: 16. Hiroke Yuhara, 17. Kensuke Hatakeyama, 18. Yuji Kitagawa, 19. Sione Vatuvei, 20. Tomoki Yoshida, 21. Shaun Webb, 22. Alisi Tupuailai.
New Zealand: 1. Tony Woodcock, 2. Keven Mealamu, 3. Owen Franks, 4. Brad Thorn, 5. Sam Whitelock, 6. Jerome Kaino, 7. Richie McCaw (capt), 8. Adam Thomson, 9. Andy Ellis, 10. Colin Slade, 11. Richard Kahui, 12. Ma’a Nonu, 13. Conrad Smith, 14. Cory Jane, 15. Mils Muliaina.
Reserves: 16. Andrew Hore, 17. John Afoa, 18. Ali Williams, 19. Victor Vito, 20. Jimmy Cowan, 21. Piri Weepu, 22. Sonny Bill Williams.
REFEREE: Nigel Owens (Wales)