In an odd twist of fate, the two losing coaches from Round 1 of the IRB Pacific Nations Cup have made minor alterations to their sides, while the two winning coaches have made wholesale changes as the teams move to Tokyo for Round 2.
Japan’s Eddie Jones made just three changes to the side beaten 25-19 by Fiji ahead of Sunday’s clash with Tonga at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground.
Hiroshi Yamashita starts at tighthead prop in place on Kensuke Hatakeyama, Hendrik Tui comes in for the injured Michael Leitch at Number 8 and Ryan Nicholas comes in for Tomohiro Senba at outside centre as the Brave Blossoms look to avenge their loss to the Ikale Tahi at last year’s Rugby World Cup.
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“When we selected the side there were two things we looked at,” Jones said. “We had a five-day turnaround so we needed some fresh legs and we struggled to stop Fiji at the gain line and struggled getting over the gain line.”
Leitch was ruled out with a MCL injury but Jones said he believed Tui – who will be winning his first cap – was a similar player who would help Japan in both attack and defence.
“Tui is also a good ball carrier and we’ll be looking for him to get over the gain line. We also need to have stopping power in the back row and we think Tui can give us that.”
Tonga coach Toutai Kefu, meanwhile, made four changes to the side beaten 20-18 by Samoa.
Tevita Mailau is promoted off the bench and will start at hooker, while Viliami Maafu comes in at No. 8.
In the backs, Sefa Vaka starts at centre in place of Mafileo Kefu, while Siale Piutau in named on the wing.
There is one new face on the replacements bench with Edmond Paea getting a call up.
Kurt Morath keeps his place at No. 10. On Tuesday, the fly half – who now plies his trade in Japan for Kefu’s Kubota Spears – kicked six penalties to take over from Fiji’s Taniela Rawaqa as the highest points scorer in the history of the competition with 113.
When asked what his side needed to do to beat Japan, Kefu replied: “We need to cut down our errors, especially the unforced errors. Timing is important and it simply wasn’t there [against Samoa].”
Fiji v Samoa
Samoa and Fiji go into the first game in Tokyo knowing victory would put them one win away from the title.
But that hasn’t stopped coaches Stephen Betham and Inoke Male from making big changes to the sides that opened the competition with victories in Nagoya.
There are seven new players and two positional changes in the Samoa starting XV.
In the forwards, Wayne Ole Avei comes off the bench to start at hooker, Daniel Crichton moves from the back row into the second row, Alafoti Faosiliva starts at blindside flanker and Maurie Faasavalu gets the nod at openside.
Behind the scrum, Jeremy Sua is named at scrum-half, Ki Anufe shifts from the centres to fly-half, with Lolo Lui moving in the opposite direction.
Paul Perez comes off the bench and will wear the No. 15 jersey, while Paul Williams makes his first appearance of the tournament and will wear 12.
Male praised his team’s new disciplined approach following the win over Japan. But like Betham he too has changed over half his team.
The Fijians have an all new front row in Jeremaia Yanuyanutawa, Seremaia Naureure and Waisea Daveta.There are also two new flankers in Josefa Domolailai and Malakai Volau.
Nemia Kentale is named at scrum-half, while Alusio Buto comes off the bench and will start on the wing.
“We want to win our fans back and winning against Samoa will be vital for us to attract our fans,” Male said.
CLICK HERE TO WATCH HIGHLIGHT OF SAM V FJI FROM RWC 2011 >>
The first game kicks off at 12:10 p.m. (local time), with the hosts taking on Tonga at 2:10 p.m. Live coverage is available on irb.com >>