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Preview: Japan vs. England - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Saturday's friendly clash between Japan and England, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

Test rugby returns this weekend, kicking off with what should be an intriguing matchup between Japan and England at the Japan National Stadium in Tokyo on Saturday morning.

This will mark the first Test match for England against the Brave Blossoms on Japanese soil, the location of the 2019 World Cup, where they suffered that heartbreaking loss to South Africa in the final in Yokohama.

Match preview

Japan players celebrate after the match on September 28, 2023© Reuters

One of the main subplots of this encounter is the presence of former Red Rose head coach Eddie Jones, who will be featuring in his first Test back in charge of Japan since announcing his return in December last year.

Jones, who became the first Australian coach to fail to advance past the group stage of a World Cup in last year's tournament, is set to embark on his second stint with the Brave Blossoms, who he previously achieved success with, most notably by beating South Africa 34-32 in the 2015 World Cup.

Notably, the former England boss has already raised a few eyebrows, opting for a similar strategy to the one we saw him employ with Australia by bringing in a host of youngsters, although he has retained the services of the vastly experienced Michael Leitch as captain.

Under the guidance of Jamie Joseph, the Brave Blossoms overcame both Chile and Samoa at the 2023 World Cup, but fell to a scrappy 34-12 defeat to England in Nice before losing to Argentina in their final match of the group, which saw them miss out on a spot in the quarter-final.

Japan and England have crossed paths eight times overall, but only three of those matches were in this century. Aside from the World Cup defeat, Japan were also beaten by the Red Rose at Twickenham in 2018 and 2022, by scorelines of 35-15 and 52-13 respectively.

England's Marcus Smith celebrates with teammates after scoring a drop goal on March 9, 2024© Reuters

Meanwhile, before heading off to face New Zealand in Dunedin on July 6 and Auckland on July 13, England will have to contend with the heat and humidity of Tokyo, where temperatures of 30°C (87°C) are expected on Saturday.

Despite a poor warm-up campaign, England came together at the World Cup in France last year, emerging as the winners of their group with a perfect record before suffering an agonising 16-15 loss to the Springboks in the semi-final.

The Red Rose followed that up by delivering an improved performance in the Six Nations, where they dashed Ireland's hopes of consecutive Grand Slams and came close to defeating France in a thrilling final match in Paris.

Steve Borthwick, who spent three years alongside Jones in the England camp, will know that his former colleague will have a few tricks up his sleeve here, and it seems the mind games have already begun with the former opting to push forward his team announcement by 48 hours, which is a tactic the Brave Blossoms' boss has used in the past.

Based on the team selection, it appears that Borthwick is determined to maintain the momentum his players built in the latter half of the Six Nations, entrusting Marcus Smith with the role of chief playmaker.

Japan form (all competitions):

  • L
  • L
  • W
  • L
  • W
  • L

England form (all competitions):

  • W
  • W
  • W
  • L
  • W
  • L

Team News

As mentioned, Jones has opted for a new-look Japan side, naming as many as eight new caps in the 23-man squad, four of whom are set to make the starting 15, with two, Takayoshi Mohara and Mamoru Harada, featuring in the front row.

Closer to the centre of the park, there are a few more familiar faces with Naoto Saito and Seungsin Lee in the half-back combination, while alongside them are Tomoki Osada and Dylan Riley, both of whom were part of the World Cup squad.

Aside from the injury to George Ford, which allowed Smith to take up the fly-half position, Borthwick was also forced into changes elsewhere with Ellis Genge and Ollie Chessum both still on the treatment table.

Harlequins' powerful ball-carrier Chandler Cunningham-South comes into the starting lineup for Chessum, while Sale Sharks' Bevan Rodd will fill the hole in the front row left by Genge. The matchday squad will also see the return of Tom Curry, who has not featured for England since the World Cup due to a hip injury that required surgery.

Japan starting lineup: 15 Yoshitaka Yazaki, 14 Jone Naikabula, 13 Dylan Riley, 12 Tomoki Osada, 11 Koga Nezuka, 10 Seungsin Lee, 9 Naoto Saito, 8 Faulua Makisi, 7 Tiennan Costley, 6 Michael Leitch, 5 Warner Dearns, 4 Sanaila Waqa, 3 Shuhei Takeuchi, 2 Mamoru Harada, 1 Takayoshi Mohara

Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Shogo Miura, 18 Keijiro Tamefusa, 19 Amanaki Saumaki, 20 Kai Yamamoto, 21 Shinobu Fujiwara, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23 Samisoni Tua

England starting lineup: 15 George Furbank, 14 Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Lawrence, 11 Tommy Freeman, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Alex Mitchell, 8 Ben Earl, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Chandler Cunningham-South, 5 George Martin, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Jamie George (c), 1 Bevan Rodd

Replacements: 16 Theo Dan, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 Tom Curry, 21 Harry Randall, 22 Fin Smith, 23 Tom Roebuck

SM words green background

We say: Japan 14-32 England

This marks the beginning of a new era for Japan under the guidance of Eddie Jones, who is set to send out a host of youngsters in this match.

Historically, Japan have struggled to put points on England, and while the humidity could play a significant factor here, we feel the Borthwick's side will come away with a fairly comfortable victory.

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England's Jamie George pictured in October 2023
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