Despite riding a two game losing streak, Japan arrive on Romania on a high after coming within a whisker of overturning the New Zealand Maori in Tokyo. Technically speaking they are still on a 10-test winning streak, but more relevent is the fact that they were victorious on their last trip to Bucharest, an exciting contest that signalled their emergence as genuine practicioners of the scrum. The set piece is traditionally an area of great strength for the Romanians, and was again even in defeat to the Americans, so the scrum battle should be intensely scrutinized by purists.
Lynn Howells has chosen to switch up the side following the disappointing loss. Mihai Lazăr, Otar Turashvili, and Alin Coste make way for more mobile options with Andrei Ursache, Andrei Rădoi, and Valentin Popârlan coming into the the tight five. On the bench youngster Vlad Nistor is supplanted by veteran Stelian Burcea. While the scrum might suffer slightly, the changes should help combat the high tempo Japanese forwards in the loose.
Two new men arrive in the backs, with Robert Dascalu strengthening the midfield and Florin Vlaicu bumped to flyhalf. Dorin Manole moves to the wing, a spot not entirely foreign having played there a handful of times before. Ionut Botezatu takes over on the left side, with Robert Neagu dropped to the bench and Adrian Apostol missing out completely. Uncapped 32 year old scrumhalf Grigoras Diaconescu hopes to see the field this time after sitting on the bench for the entire 80 minutes of the last game against Japan.
Japan have made two changes to the starting side that pushed the Maori. Masataka Mikami has recovered from concussion to return at loosehead in place of unlucky Keita Inagaki, who sits on the bench, and Shoji Ito comes in for a rested Luke Thompson. Every coach has their own idiosyncracies when it comes to selection, and Ito seems to be the one for Eddie Jones that escapes the reason of most. The veteran second row stands out in the Japanese league, but at international level he is badly undersized and made little impact in the first Maori game in Kobe. It seems a waste to leave hugely promising youngster Kazuhiko Usami toiling in the stands with greater opportunities available.
Reserve scrumhalf Yuki Yatomi is another head scratcher, given that he isn’t even first choice at his club side, Yamaha, and lost out to Keisuke Uchida for the past two weeks. Uchida, bizarrely, has not been included on the tour. Former captain Toshiaki Hirose and experienced tighthead Hiroshi Yamashita are the other changes on the bench.
How this game goes depends largely on which Japanese side shows up. If they play like they did in Kobe, the Oaks have this in the bag. If the spirit of Tokyo arrives, the home side are in trouble. Look for this one to be somewhere in the middle. A competent showing from Japan is likely, but with a few blips against the highly confrontational Romanian forwards. The battle between robo-kickers Vlaicu and Ayumu Goromaru should be interesting, but probably not pivotal. Expect the more explosive Japanese runners to do some damage. Brave Blossoms by 10.
ROMANIA vs JAPAN
Saturday, November 15, 14:00 GMT, Bucharest
Referee: Stuart Berry (SARU)
Assistants: Greg Garner (RFU) & t.b.d. (RFU)
TMO: Marshall Kilgore (IRFU)