Japan return to Tbilisi for the second time in three years as they face the Lelos in a fascinating contest between two evenly matched and improving sides. Georgia have never beaten Japan, losing both previous meetings, though the last was very close with only 3 points separating the two sides. Their pathway to the match could not have been further apart, with Georgia enduring a heavy loss to Ireland and Japan squeezing a close but comfortable win out of Romania.
Injury will deprive the Brave Blossoms of their captain this week, with Michael Leitch replaced by Kiwi flanker Hayden Hopgood and tighthead prop Kensuke Hatakeyama asked to lead the side for the first time. Luke Thompson returns at lock with Shinya Makabe dropping to the bench, and uncapped Shinnosuke Kakinaga comes in to cover tighthead in place of Hiroshi Yamashita after impressing against the Maori earlier in the month.
An injury to Akihito Yamada means a reshuffle in the backs, with Karne Hesketh switching to the left wing and Kotaro Matsushima bumping out to the right. Harumichi Tatekawa, who started to show some life again at the end of the match in Bucharest, is recalled at inside centre, and Male Sa’u returns to his favoured no13 shirt. Yu Tamura has recovered from an arm problem to take over at flyhalf in place of Kosei Ono.
Georgia have lost Dimitri Basilaia and Lasha Malaguradze to injuries suffered in Dublin, so highly promising Lasha Lomidze comes in at no8, with fullback Beka Tsiklauri taking a spot on the bench. Muraz Giorgadze misses out this week with Giorgi Aptsiauri nominated to win his first cap in the only other change to the 23, and Giorgi Nemsadze rotates into the second row with Kote Mikautadze moved to the bench.
This one should be highly reminiscent of Japan’s match against Romania, with Georgia’s strengths virtually identical. The Japanese scrum was surprisingly belted by the Romanians, so this one could go the same way in that department, but their lineout remained quite strong on both sides of the ball. The midfield struggled to make ground against a solid Romanian defense until Tatekawa came on, and if anything Georgia represents a tougher challenge there, so this game should once again be decided by the respective kickers. Both are highly competent, but Ayumu Goromaru has a little more range. Pick Japan to win another nail biter by 3.
GEORGIA vs JAPAN
Sunday, November 23, 13:00 GMT, Tbilisi
Referee: Romain Poite (FFR)
Assistants: Ian Davies (WRU) & t.b.d. (FFR)
TMO: Stefano Pennè (FIR)