Preview: USA v Japan

Date published: June 13 2014


The USA Eagles get their Pacific Nations Cup campaign underway when they host Japan in Carson California on Saturday.

The USA Eagles get their Pacific Nations Cup campaign underway when they host Japan in Carson California on Saturday.

Japan are are on a high after beating Canada in their tournament opener last weekend – a result which gave the Brave Blossoms their eighth successive victory.

USA head coach Mike Tolkin and Japan boss Eddie Jones will approach this clash with a huge amount of interest and use it for a more important encounter in 2015. The fixture will serve as a Rugby World Cup warm-up, as Japan will be in the Eagles' pool in England with Samoa, Scotland and South Africa.

Jones has retained most of the team that secured a 35-24 victory over Canada last weekend. He was forced into one change in his back-line, with Kenki Fukuoka returning from injury to replace Yoshikazu Fujita on the right wing after Fujita sustained a shoulder injury in the against Canada.

The only other change is at lock where Shoji Ito replaces Japan's most capped player, Hitoshi Ono. Ito starts in the second row alongside Luke Thompson, who, along with flanker Justin Ives, shone in the triumph over Canada.

Although they are playing away Japan head into this game full of confidence. In their last match against Canada, they were behind 25-9 at the interval before scoring 25 unanswered points in the second half to secure a 34-25 victory.

In utility back Male Sa'u, hooker Shota Horie and scrum-half Fumiaki Tanaka they have three experienced players, who are regulars in the matchday squads of Super Rugby franchises the Rebels and Highlanders.

Despite winning 12 of the 20 previous matches, against Japan – the Brave Blossoms have won seven and there's been one draw – the USA are in the midst of a slump in this fixture as Japan has won the last four matches. The Eagles' last victory over the Brave Blossoms was at the 2003 World Cup.

In their recent 24-6 loss to Scotland, the USA's overall performance was below par but captain and flanker Todd Clever was one of the standout performers while fellow tearaway Scott LaValla and number eight Cameron Dolan also impressed.

24-year-old Dolan, who made his international debut last year, is relishing his time alongside Clever in the Eagles' back row even though he has taken over from his skipper at the base of the scrum.

“He's one of the best players to ever play for the U.S.,” Dolan told theUSA Rugby union's official website.

“I just try to do my part as a team member. It's a team game.”

Speaking ahead of the Eagles' loss to Scotland, Dolan said the side can do well against more established sides if they play to their strengths.

“We have a strong team right now,” he added.

“When we're clicking on all cylinders, we can be one of the top 10 teams in the world. We've got to figure out what works for us and just stick with it.”

The Eagles current squad consists of the most overseas professionals in history,totaling 14 players.

Ones to watch:

For USA In utility forward Samu Manoa, the Eagles have one of the toughest players in their ranks. Manoa's strengths are his physicality and ball-carrying ability. Was one of Northampton Saints' stars during their Premiership winning campaign and was shortlisted as one of the finalists for that tournament's Player of the Season award.

For Japan: Captain and openside flanker Michael Leitch is a tireless worker, who gives his all for the Japanese cause. Leitch's strengths is his ball-winning skills and excellent defence but is equally adept on the attack and should keep the Eagles on their toes when he gets going with ball in hand.

Recent results:
2013: Japan won 38-20, Tokyo
2011: Japan won 20-14, Tokyo
2008: Japan won 32-17, Tokyo
2008: Japan won 29-19, Nagoya
2003: USA won 39-26, Gosford (RWC)

Prediction: Although the USA are at home, Japan are brimming with confidence and are determined to stay on the victory trail. Japan to win by eight points!

The teams:

USA (squad): Danny Barrett, Todd Clever (c), Tom Coolican, Miles Craigwell, Cameron Dolan, Eric Fry, Troy Hall, Luke Hume, Seamus Kelly, Olive Kilifi, Titi Lamositele, Scott Lavalla, Chad London, Samu Manoa, Tim Maupin, Folau Niua, Mike Petri, Shawn Pittman, Blaine Scully, Hayden Smith, Louis Stanfill, Kyle Sumsion, Andrew Suniula, Shalom Suniula, Phil Thiel, Tai Tuisamoa, Nick Wallace, Chris Wyles

Japan: 15 Ayumu Goromaru, 14 Kenki Fukuoka, 13 Male Sa'u, 12 Yu Tamura, 11 Akihito Yamada, 10 Harumichi Tatekawa, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Ryu Koliniasi Holani, 7 Michael Leitch (capt), 6 Justin Ives, 5 Luke Thompson, 4 Shoji Ito, 3 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Masataka Mikami.
Replacements: 16. Hisateru Hirashima, 17 Takeshi Kizu, 18 Hiroshi Yamashita, 19 Hitoshi Ono, 20 Shinya Makabe, 21 Hendrik Tui, 22 Atsushi Hiwasa, 23 Toshiaki Hirose.

Date: Saturday, June 14
Kick-off: 19:30 local (Sunday 02:30 GMT, 01:30 BST)
Venue: StubHub Centre, Carson California
Referee: Greg Garner (England)
Assistant referees: Leighton Hodges (Wales), Francisco Pastrana (Argentina)