The ability of the current crop of Brave Blossoms to surpass the achievements of the class of 2015 when Japan hosts next year’s Rugby World Cup will be much clearer following Saturday’s match with England at Twickenham.
Up against the man who guided them to three wins at the 2015 tournament in England, Japan take on a Six Nations side knowing they will have to beat at least one other next year if they are to progress to the quarterfinals for the first time.
England coach Eddie Jones said earlier in the week he was hoping his side would «physically smash» Japan, but his counterpart Jamie Joseph believes his side can meet fire with fire.
«The fact England are targeting us physically is no secret,» said Joseph, whose side are up against Ireland, Scotland, Samoa and Russia in Pool A at the World Cup.
«We’re going to have to take what comes at us and then throw something back. I think some of our players are up to it mentally and physically, we do have smaller men and we do play the game differently because of that, so we try to keep the game quick.»
And that game plan is something Jones is only too aware of.
«We are expecting plenty of energy, aggression and fast ball movement from Japan,» he said. «They will be full of surprises, quick taps, line-outs and plays. They are going to have a bag of magic.»
Much of the pre-game talk has been about Japan apparently being out to get one over on Jones for the «bullying» he supposedly subjected them to during his time in charge, causing the England coach to respond with his «physically smash» remark.
Much of that was tongue-in-cheek as there is nothing but mutual respect from both parties. But it does seem to have influenced the selection of both sides.
Joseph has made six changes and three positional switches from the side that lost 69-31 to New Zealand two weeks ago in Tokyo and named six forwards on his bench and just two backs.
In the tight five, Koo Ji Won and Uwe Helu come in at tighthead prop and lock, respectively, while the need for an out-and-out openside flanker sees Masakatsu Nishikawa win just his second cap, with Kazuki Himeno shifting to No. 8.
Fumiaki Tanaka returns to add a wealth of experience at scrumhalf, as does Akihito Yamada on the right wing, while William Tupou’s shift to fullback means Timothy Lafaele moves to outside center and Ryoto Nakamura comes in to wear the No. 12 jersey.
Jones, meanwhile, has made 11 changes to the side that lost 16-15 to the All Blacks last Saturday, leaving veterans such as Dylan Hartley and Owen Farrell on the bench, as he looks to replicate what will happen in Japan next year at the World Cup.
«This weekend is a good opportunity for us to test the depth of the squad,» he said.
«Japan is an important game for us as we want to get back to winning ways. We have also tested ourselves in having a shorter preparation. We gave the players two days off after three weeks of intensive work.»
Joe Cokanasiga — who at 1.92 meters and 112 kilograms is 17 centimeters taller and 29 kg heavier than his opposite number Kenki Fukuoka — gets a first cap on the wing as England look to make the most of their physical superiority.
«He’s got power and he’s got pace. The Japanese wingers are very good wingers so he’ll have to be at his best,» Jones said of the Fijian-born wing.
And Joseph is hopeful the Japan speedsters will live up to that billing.
«He loves the big stage and you don’t get a bigger stage than Twickenham,» he said of Yamada.
«He is very confident in his own ability. He has got a big challenge defending against those big wingers of England but he is looking forward to it.»
Joseph said winning their own ball at the set piece — «against England most teams find that very difficult» — and making their tackles (they missed 25 against the All Blacks) would be key if Japan are to pull off an upset.
«If we can do that well then we can create some momentum and any team that creates momentum is going to create pressure and score points. And that is what we have been training for all week.»
Starting XV — Keita Inagaki, Atsushi Sakate, Koo Ji Won, Wimpie van der Walt, Uwe Helu, Michael Leitch, Masakatsu Nishikawa, Kazuki Himeno, Fumiaki Tanaka, Yu Tamura, Kenki Fukuoka, Ryoto Nakamura, Timothy Lafaele, Akihito Yamada, William Tupou.
Bench — Yusuke Niwai, Koki Yamamoto, Asaeli Ai Valu, Samuela Anise, Hendrik Tui, Shunsuke Nunomaki, Yutaka Nagare, Rikiya Matsuda.
All — Kyodo News+