Wing Yoshikazu Fujita gets the start versus South Korea. PHOTO: Kenji Demura | RJP
Japan head into Saturday's clash with South Korea knowing a win will clinch them the inaugural Asia Rugby Championship with a game to spare.
But having seen how well the Koreans started their clash on the opening weekend, Japan coach Eddie Jones is taking nothing for granted. Jones has spent time this week working on his side's mental preparation in the hope they don't repeat their slow start in the first game between the two sides on 18 April when Japan trailed 17-3 halfway through the first half.
“It's an attitude thing,” he said following his side's captain's run at Level-5 Stadium in Fukuoka.
“It's something we have tried to address. We had a much more physical session yesterday – a really hard 30 minutes – and I expect the players to be better this time around.”
Japan's superior fitness and strength eventually allowed them to take control of the game in Incheon but this time around Jones is counting on the mental side of things working in Japan's favour.
“We probably had a harder training run this week than last,” he said in response to a question about the relative sluggishness of some of the players in the 41-0 win over Hong Kong.
“You can't always be 100 percent, and that's the reality of test rugby. The players are starting to understand it and they were mentally a lot sharper today,” Jones said.
Japan's starting XV shows four changes from the one that took the field against Hong Kong last week in Tokyo with a further four changes on the bench.
Hisateru Hirashima takes over from Masataka Mikami at loosehead prop, Kazuhiko Usami replaces Luke Thompson, who was outstanding last week, in the second row, while in the backs Kenki Fukuoka comes in for Akihito Yamada and Yoshikzau Fujita is promoted from the bench with Chihito Matsui away on sevens duty.
"Fujita won the MVP award from the team last week even though he came off the bench,” Jones said.
“He won it for how hard he worked off the ball not for what he did with it, as that creates opportunities.”
Kenki Fukuoka hasn't played for his country since June of last year but Jones said he is hopeful the speedster - “who is even quicker than before” - can excite his hometown crowd.
"It's been a long time since Kenki has played for us. He's got his speed back, though he's not 100 percent fully conditioned to play rugby. But we want to see where he is in relation to selection for the World Cup squad and it's exciting to see him and Fujita on the left and right wings."
Centre Kim Nam Uk and his Korea teammates will be looking to frustrate Japan in Round 4. Photo: Kenji Demura | RJP
The South Koreans come into the game on the back of a crucial away win against Hong Kong, though their side shows eight changes and three positional switches from the XV that took the field at the Hong Kong Football Club.
When asked if he was resting players ahead of next week's return game with Hong Kong coach Chung Hyung Suk said “That's got nothing to do with it. It's good to get the younger players on the pitch. They are eager to play and it brings out the best in the team.”
Son Young Ki and Shin Dong Won are handed starts in the front row with Kim Ho Bum running on in the No. 4 jersey.
Kim Jeong Min leads the side from openside flanker having started the last game on the bench and is joined in the back row by Jang Seok Hwan, who shifts to blindside flanker, and Park Soon Chai, who moves to No. 8 from the second row.
In the backs, Shin Ki Cheol and Lee Eu Tteum form a brand new halfback pairing at international level though Chung pointed out that the two served in the military together and had played together for two years in the domestic rugby competition.
Kim Gwong Min and Park Hang Yul come in on the wing, while Jegal Bin shifts to outside centre.
“We’ve been working on the maul both in attack and defence,” said Chung. "The team are about 70 to 80 percent from where I want them to be. We know Japan play more advanced rugby than us and are going to the World Cup so we want to learn from them."
Saturday's game kicks off at 14.00 (GMT 0500) and is preceded by the second match in the inaugural Asia Rugby Women’s Championship with Japan looking to upset the continent's strongest side Kazakhstan in the single round robin competition that also features Hong Kong.
Japan finished third in last year’s competition, which was held in Hong Kong with Kazakhstan taking top honours and the hosts finishing in second place in a four-team competition that included Singapore last year.
Kazakhstan opened the inaugural women’s championship with a convincing 40-0 win over Hong Kong in Almaty, where they are undefeated, on 25 April. Japan will travel to Hong Kong on 23 May for the conclusion of the series.
The Japan v South Korea match will be live-streamed at: http://eversport.tv/rugby/asian-rugby-championship/2015/5/9/top-3-japan-vs-south-korea?video=58311(geo-blocking restrictions may apply in certain markets).
Japan XV v South Korea (9 May):
1. Hisateru Hirashima; 2. Takeshi Kizu; 3. Kensuke Hatakeyama (captain); 4. Shoji Ito; 5. Kazuhiko Usami; 6. Justin Ives; 7. Tsuyoshi Murata; 8. Ryu Holani; 9. Atsushi Hiwasa; 10. Harumichi Tatekawa; 11. Kenki Fukuoka; 12. Yu Tamura; 13. Karne Hesketh; 14. Yoshikazu Fujita; 15. Ayumu Goromaru; 16. Masataka Mikami; 17. Hiroki Yuhara; 18. Hiroshi Yamashita; 19. Luke Thompson; 20. Hayden Hopgood; 21. Yuki Yatomi; 22. Ryohei Yamanaka; 23. Toshiaki Hirose.
South Korea XV v Japan (9 May)
1. Young Gi Son; 2. Jeep Kim; 3. Dongwon Shin; 4. Ho Bum Kim; 5. Kwon Woo Youn; 6. Seokhwan Jang; 7. Jeong Min Kim (captain); 8. Soon Chai Park; 9. Ki Cheol Shin; 10. Eu Tteum Lee; 12. Gwong Min Kim; 13. Nam Uk Kim; 14. Bin Jegal; 15. Hang Yul Park; 16. Seong Min Jang; 17. Kwan Young Na; 18. Min Kyu Kim; 19. Kang San Choi; 20. Myung Jun Lee; 21. In Jo Hwang; 22. Youn Hyung Oh; 23. Young Soo Nam