IRB Pacific Nations CUP
Veteran wing and former Sevens ace, Sireli Bobo, will turn back the clock in the IRB Pacific Nations Cup 2013 clash against Japan on Saturday after being named in the Flying Fijians line-up for the first time in three years.
The France-based star has been called up by coach Inoke Male for Fiji’s Pacific Nations Cup opener at Lautoka’s Churchill Park as last-minute cover for Watisoni Votu who is getting married.
Bobo last appeared for his country at Fifteens in a heavy defeat to Australia in Canberra in June 2010, and Saturday’s fixture will mark his first appearance on home soil at this level since 2005.
The much-travelled 37-year-old, who currently plays his club rugby for Racing Metro, is one of 12 changes to the Fiji side that started their last match against Georgia back in November.
Only props Setefano Somoca and Jerry Yanuyanutawa and flanker Apisai Naikatini survive from the 24-19 win in Tbilisi.
While Bobo’s return is keenly anticipated, the spotlight will also be on fellow wing, Japan’s Hirotoki Onozawa, who will become his country’s most capped player when he runs out at Churchill Park.
Onozawa is set to win his 80th cap for the Brave Blossoms after passing a fitness test on the injury which saw him limp off midway through the second half in last weekend’s home defeat to Tonga.
Coach Eddie Jones has made seven changes to the side that lost 27-17 in Yokohama, including a first international appearance of the season for flanker Michael Leitch.
“Practice has been fun and I'm really happy to join up with the squad,” said Leitch, who joins the squad from the Chiefs in New Zealand.
“We need to make sure we start well so we can get back that winning culture.”
There are two other changes in the pack with Yusuke Aoki and Kensuke Hatakeyama both starting in the front row, having been among the replacements last week.
In the backs, Yuta Imamura is named on the right wing with Yoshikazu Fujita dropping out of the 23-man squad.
Craig Wing takes his place on the bench and will cover both fly half and centre.
Takashi Kikutani will lead the side from number 8 as Japan look for a repeat of the success they enjoyed at the same venue two years ago, when a 24-13 win clinched the 2011 Pacific Nations Cup title.
Trailing 8-0 at the break, Japan capitalised on Fijian ill-discipline, which saw two players sent off – one in either half for high tackles - and another three yellow-carded, to score four second-half tries.
Japan coach Eddie Jones has picked a side that, he hopes, will front up to the physical test Fiji will inevitably pose.
"Fiji has a heavy and tall pack and we need to do well in the scrums and lineouts," said Jones.
"We can't match the Fijians in the backline but we will try and control them and stop them from playing unstructured rugby.”