Japan face Russia for the fifth time in their history and the first outside of Tokyo as the two teams travel to balmy North Wales in a second tier fixture.
JAPAN vs RUSSIA
Friday, November 15, 19:30 GMT, Colwyn Bay
Only once before have Russia bested the Cherry Blossoms, and that was a decade ago with a much stronger team. When last the two teams met, in November of 2010, the gap was an astonishing 72 points in favour of Japan. Five of those Russian players remain in the starting lineup, and only two of the home side.
After their reserve side was summarily dismissed by Gloucester on Tuesday to the tune of a 40-5 thrashing, Japan must hope for a swift change in fortunes to restore some lost pride. Three changes in the first XV and another five in the reserves have been made as the squad deals with a rash of injuries. Hitoshi Ono swaps with Shinya Makabe in the second row, Yoshikazu Fujita takes over from Kenki Fukuoka on the left wing, and Yu Tamura is required in place of Craig Wing at inside cenre.
Yusuke Aoki has been ruled out of the rest of the tour so Toshiba’s Hiroki Yuhara has been recalled, and veteran loosehead Hisateru Hirashima gets a chance in place of Yusuke Nagae. Justin Ives covers the back row, Seiichi Shimomura the centres, and uncapped Akihito Yamada the outside backs. Takashi Kikutani is rested but expected to return to face Spain.
Russian coach Kingsley Jones will once again look to the Georgian brothers Grigori and Valeri Tsnobiladze to bolster the front row alongside first choice tighthead Evgeny Pronenko. Utility forward Alexander Khudyakov is picked on the blindside, with similarly versatile Andrei Garbuzov partnering captain Alexander Voytov in the second row. With no specialist openside in the squad, Pavel Butenko is asked to step up in the key position.
Utility halfback Anton Ryabov starts at scrumhalf, where he also featured in the IRB Nations Cup, and Sergey Sugrobov is preferred to Yuri Kushnarev at flyhalf. A surprise choice sees inexperienced Ramil Gaisin, himself normally a no10, selected at fullback ahead of tyro Denis Simplikevich. Already drawing the attention of clubs in both France and England for his combination of size and speed, Simplikevich has been deemed not fit enough to start having recently returned from injury, though he does find a spot on the bench.
The Bears will be pleased to be playing outside of Tokyo, and the neutral venue of Colwyn Bay might feel a little more like home with its chilly winds, but this is a patchwork Russian side with questionable selections at key positions. The wingers are certainly good enough to cause problems, though a consistent feature of this team is its unwillingness to throw the ball wide. Japan have looked capable at times and overwhelmed at others, but should be confident enough to raise their game against a team they have historically had little trouble with. Pick Japan to win a messy encounter by around 18 points.
Referee: Luke Pearce (RFU)
Assistants: Rhys Thomas (WRU) & Andy Davies (WRU)