Japan need 'best game of their lives' as captain Leitch dropped for Ireland clash

Head coach Jamie Joseph was surprised not to see Johnny Sexton’s name in Ireland’s squad.

JAPAN HEAD COACH Jamie Joseph said his players will have to deliver the greatest performance of their lives if they are to upset Ireland in Saturday’s World Cup clash in Shizuoka.

The Brave Blossoms boss has made four changes to his starting team after last Friday’s 30-10 victory over Russia, with captain Michael Leitch dropped to the bench.

The fit-again Amanaki Lelei Mafi comes into the back row at number eight, providing an explosive ball-carrying and tackling presence, with Kazuki Himeno moving to blindside flanker.

japan-rugby-wcup-russia-japan Leitch drops to the bench for Japan. Source: Eugene Hoshiko

Openside Pieter Labuschagne takes over the captaincy, while 38-year-old former Blackrock College RFC lock Luke Thompson comes into the starting XV.

Jiwon Koo is named at tighthead prop, while Ryohei Yamanaka is introduced at fullback and Will Tupou shifts out to the left wing, with Japan expecting an aerial bombardment from Ireland.

“The players will need to play the best game of their lives, that’s what they’ll need to be successful on Saturday,” said Joseph after naming his matchday 23.

As for the decision to leave Leitch out of the starting side, Joseph explained that he is looking for a strong bench impact.

“What I believe around the game, in terms of our bench, we’ve got to have an impact if we’re going to be in a position to win the match it’s going to come down to the last five or 10 minutes,” said Joseph.

“And we’ll need clear leadership. Michael has had an injury all year, he’s only played four or five games, and he’s a very key player.

“But we have a lot of quality loose forwards and in-form players. So we have in-form players playing really well and experienced players coming on.”

Japan had spoken this week about their intention to take advantage of Johnny Sexton not being at 100% for Saturday’s game, meaning his exclusion from Ireland’s matchday 23 came as a surprise.

japan-rugby-wcup Head coach Jamie Joseph at Japan training this week. Source: AP/PA Images

Jack Carty instead takes Ireland’s number 10 shirt, but Joseph said Japan are still expecting plenty of quality.

“I don’t think we’re the sort of team that can afford to be worried about whether Sexton is playing or not. The quality of the team or players, you don’t get to be number one in the world with only one or two quality players

“While that is a surprise, it doesn’t change anything that we need to do.

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“There’s a lot less experience without Sexton, but I remember playing my first Test match, it’s going to be an exciting time and he’s going to go out and play very well unless we can put him under pressure.”

Japan (v Ireland):

15. Ryohei Yamanaka
14. Kotaro Matsushima
13. Timothy Lafaele
12. Ryoto Nakamura
11. Will Tupou
10. Yu Tamura
9. Yutaka Nagare

1. Keita Inagaki
2. Shota Horie
3. Jiwon Koo
4. Luke Thompson
5. James Moore
6. Kazuki Himeno
7. Pieter Labuschagne (captain)
8. Amanaki Lelei Mafi


16. Atsushi Sakate
17. Isileli Nakajima
18. Asaeli Ai Valu
19. Wimpie van der Walt
20. Michael Leitch
21. Fumiaki Tanaka
22. Rikiya Matsuda
23. Lomano Lava Lemeki

Referee: Angus Gardner [Australia].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella  / Reports from Hamamatsu

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