Preview: Japan v Ireland

Date published: June 23 2017

Ireland will be determined to wrap up their June Test campaign with a third victory when they face Japan at Ajinomoto Stadium on Saturday.

With victories over USA and the Brave Blossoms already in the bank, Joe Schmidt's men take on Japan again, who will want to respond after last week's 50-22 result in Shizuoka. Ireland were simply a class apart in that fixture as the speed they played at had Japan in trouble.

Keith Earls, Jack Conan and Dan Leavy all stood out with Earls in particular a joy to watch as he scored two and set up a couple of tries while making 116 metres with ball in hand. This week he switches wings to the right as Schmidt freshens up his squad for the tour finale.

Six personnel and two positional tweaks are made by Ireland as starting debuts are given to lock Kieran Treadwell and hooker James Tracy. It's still an extremely potent line-up though as Josh van der Flier comes in for Leavy while they lose nothing with Kieran Marmion replacing Luke McGrath at scrum-half. Other tweaks include Luke Marshall starting at 12 while Simon Zebo drops out, with Andrew Conway at 15.

Ireland are heavy favourites to run out handsome winners and it is hard to disagree with the bookmakers there as they look like a side full of confidence under boss Schmidt while Japan, in contrast, continue to struggle to live up to that Rugby World Cup pool form of 2015.

These two sides have been drawn in the same pool at the 2019 showpiece so one feels the Brave Blossoms need to show a great deal more in terms of defensive solidity this week to send a message to the Irish. Simply it was too easy last week for Ireland to score seven tries.

Joseph will have been working hard on that defence in training and it's clear he was unhappy with their performance as he wielded the axe for this rematch. Eight alterations have been made in total and he even chooses to hand the captaincy to Michael Leitch to lift the squad.

It's hard to see any miracles though in Shizouka this weekend as Ireland should again be too strong and run out comfortable winners, which would cap a fine tour for Schmidt and his young players who, to a man, have put their hand up for further international caps in the future.

Players to watch:

For Japan: The Brave Blossoms will have a new midfield partnership this week as Yu Tamura and Kotaro Matsushima replace William Tupou and Timothy Lafaele. Tamura will offer them another creative and kicking option at 12 but firstly he needs to keep the likes of Luke Marshall and Garry Ringrose from busting through what was a leaky defensive line last week. Amanaki Mafi meanwhile must give his side front foot ball.

For Ireland: Keith Earls was outstanding last week in Shizuoka and he'll be hoping to continue that form against the same opposition. His ability to find a gap, however small, and pierce it makes him such a dangerous player in attack. He combined brilliantly with flanker Dan Leavy and number eight Jack Conan and the latter will also be keen to carry on his scoring streak with more crossings at Ajinomoto Stadium.

Head-to-head: The two captains face off on the blindside flank as Michael Leitch and Rhys Ruddock clash. Both uncompromising physical men who will lead by example, their battle stands out with Leitch, who missed three of his eight attempted tackles last week, needing to be much stronger.

Previous results:

2017: Ireland won 50-22 in Shizuoka
2005: Ireland won 47-18 in Tokyo
2005: Ireland won 44-12 in Osaka
2000: Ireland won 78-9 in Dublin
1995: Ireland won 50-28 in Bloemfontein
1991: Ireland won 32-16 in Dublin
1985: Ireland won 33-15 in Tokyo
1985: Ireland won 48-13 in Osaka

Prediction: Another victory for the visitors who have a real swagger about them at the moment after recent triumphs. Ireland by 25 points.

The teams:

Japan: 15 Ryuji Noguchi, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Kotaro Matsushima, 12 Yu Tamura, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Jumpei Ogura, 9 Yutaka Nagare, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Shuhei Matsuhashi, 6 Michael Leitch (c), 5 Uwe Helu, 4 Luke Thompson, 3 Takuma Asahara, 2 Yusuke Niwai, 1 Shintaro Ishihara
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Keita Inagaki, 18 Takayuki Watanabe, 19 Kotaro Yatabe, 20 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23 Ryohei Yamanaka

Ireland: 15 Andrew Conway, 14 Keith Earls, 13 Garry Ringrose, 12 Luke Marshall, 11 Jacob Stockdale, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Rhys Ruddock (c), 5 Devin Toner, 4 Kieran Treadwell, 3 John Ryan, 2 James Tracy, 1 Cian Healy
Replacements: 16 Niall Scannell, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Andrew Porter, 19 James Ryan, 20 Sean Reidy, 21 John Cooney, 22 Rory Scannell, 23 Tiernan O'Halloran

Date: Saturday, June 24
Venue: Ajinomoto Stadium, Tokyo
Kick-Off: 14:40 local (05:40 GMT)
Referee: JP Doyle (England)
Assistant Referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Alex Ruiz (France)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)

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