New Zealand will hope to get their end-of-year tour off to a resounding start when they take on Japan in Tokyo on Saturday.
New Zealand will hope to get their end-of-year tour off to a resounding start when they take on Japan at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo on Saturday.
If games against France, England and Ireland are the main course then this – no disrespect to the Brave Blossoms – is the All Blacks' November starter.
Even with a much-changed line-up that includes two debutants in the XV, the world champions should run away with the win before setting off for Europe.
They, by the way. are Dominic Bird and Frank Halai, with the latter hoping to carry on the form that saw him finish Super Rugby as its top try-scorer.
How the Japanese are going to halt Halai and the rest of this squad is the big question as Beauden Barrett, Charles Piutau and Ben Smith may run riot.
While there is an experimental feel to the All Blacks this week, there still remains Richie McCaw and also the return to action of fly-half Dan Carter.
McCaw is moved to number eight for this game as Kieran Read gets to put his feet up while Bird and Jeremy Thrush line up together for the first time.
A clean sweep in the upcoming month looks on the cards as one can bet the pain from that 38-21 Twickenham loss of last year is spurring them on inside.
Japan though, won't be holding back as captain Toshiaki Hirose said on Thursday. The winger is relishing the challenge of going up against New Zealand.
“McCaw is one of the giants of world rugby and it will be amazing to be up close against him,” he said, with the Brave Blossoms looking to reduce their 76-point defeat they suffered when the two teams last met in Hamilton in 2011 before they tackle Scotland, Gloucester, Russia and Spain during November.
However, it's been a tough time for Japan due to head coach Eddie Jones suffering a mild stroke a fortnight ago. But with interim boss Scott Wisemantel relishing the challenge of going toe-to-toe with Steve Hansen and the All Blacks, the game promises to be an entertaining spectacle at the 27,188 venue.
“We are not going out there with a defeatist attitude,” Wisemantel told the reporters.
“We want to attack and go out there and actually win the game.”
It would be fantastic to see the Brave Blossoms live up to such belief and stay in the game for a decent amount of time, but this is the real world and with six wins from six during the Rugby Championship, New Zealand shouldn't have any trouble rolling past their first rival since that Ellis Park epic.
Ones to watch:
For Japan: It is unfortunate that Aaron Smith is on the bench for the All Blacks as we could have witnessed a battle of the Highlanders at nine. Fumiaki Tanaka of course starts for Japan and has enjoyed a steady improvement in his game over the past few years. Tanaka always boasted rapid service and pace but he has now developed his decision making to such an extent that he seemed to have moved ahead of Smith in Dunedin's pecking order.
For New Zealand: He was superb throughout the Rugby Championship as an impact man but now Beauden Barrett has an opportunity to enjoy an extended spell in the side. Whether coming on at full-back or fly-half, the Hurricanes starlet was electric with ball in hand and turned out to be the scourge of South Africa in their two meetings. He should have plenty of attacking opportunities on Saturday and is definitely set to gobble those up.
Head-to-head: Melbourne Rebels hooker Shota Horie goes up against Hurricanes front-row Dane Coles in Tokyo in what is an intriguing clash in more ways than one. Coles is in line to take over the number two jersey on a permanent basis from veteran duo Andrew Hore and Keven Mealamu and solid performances this November could see it happen sooner rather than later. Horie can play, mind, so Coles won't have it all his own way on Saturday.
2011: New Zealand won 83-7 in Hamilton
1995: New Zealand won 145-17 in Bloemfontein
Prediction: The visitors will have too much class. All Blacks by 45 points!
Japan: 15 Ayumu Goromaru, 14 Toshiaki Hirose, 13 Male Sau, 12 Craig Wing, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Harumichi Tatekawa, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Ryu Koliniasi Holani, 7 Michael Broadhurst, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Hitoshi Ono, 4 Shoji Ito, 3 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Masataka Mikami.
Replacements: 16 Yusuke Aoki, 17 Yusuke Nagae, 18 Hiroshi Yamashita, 19 Luke Thompson, 20 Takashi Kikutani, 21 Kosei Ono, 22 Yu Tamura, 23 Yoshikazu Fujita.
New Zealand: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Charles Piutau, 13 Ben Smith, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Frank Halai, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Richie McCaw (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Jeffrey Toomaga-Allen, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Brodie Retallick, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Tom Taylor, 23 Ryan Crotty.
Date: Saturday, November 2
Venue: Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo
Kick-off: 14:00 local (05:00 GMT)
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Andrew Lees (Australia)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)
By Adam Kyriacou