After two previous matches in Tokyo, the Brave Blossoms finally return the favour and head to Madrid to face a new-look Spanish side, fresh off a narrow defeat to Uruguay.
SPAIN vs JAPAN
Saturday, November 23, 15:00 GMT, Madrid
Santiago Santos is the new man in charge of Spain, who have struggled in recent times and failed to win a match this year until beating Chile two weeks ago on their South American tour. Ten France-based professionals combine with the locals to form a passable but underpowered side led by veteran scrumhalf Pablo Feijoo, one of only five players in the match day squad with more than 20 international caps. Spain currently sit in 20th spot on the IRB ladder, one below Russia, the team that Japan put away without too much bother last weekend.
The new coach was obviously not impressed with his team’s performance in Uruguay, and has made a raft of changes, including an entirely new tight five. New Zealand-born flanker Glen Rolls has survived at openside, with dynamic Bordeaux back rower Gautier Gibouin lined up at no8. Massive Biarritz academy prop Xabier Garmendia, only 19 years old, looks to make his debut from the bench.
Argentinean Mariano Garcia wins his first cap at flyhalf, and he will be helped by the experience of Feijoo to his inside and Jaime Nava outside him at centre. Nava’s goal kicking is a surprising feature for the big man who plies his trade for Bressane in the French Pro D2. 50-cap veteran Cesar Sempere is a classy fullback who has spent time with Montpellier and Northampton among others.
Japan have made four changes to the side that beat Russia. Reserve props Hisateru Hirashima and Hiroshi Yamashita get their chance to start, and former captain Takashi Kikutani returns to the lineup at no8 in place of Koliniasi Holani. Akihito Yamada is the only change in the backs, coming in on the left wing for Yoshikazu Fujita after impressing in a cameo against Scotland.
While Spain are a more fluid side than Russia with less emphasis placed on the forwards, competitively they are about the same level, losing to them by four points in this year’s European Nations Cup. Given that, it can be expected that the result should be similar to that of last week’s game in Colwyn Bay. Japan are far too organized and rapid on attack for the lowly Iberians, and should win by around 30 points.
Referee: Joaquin Montes (URU)
Assistants: Tual Trainini (FFR) & David Rosich (FFR)