Preview: Wales v Japan

Date published: November 18 2016

Wales will hope to build on last week’s win over Argentina when they clash with Japan at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday.

Both these sides suffered poor first-up defeats in November but bounced back last week with wins over Argentina and Georgia respectively.

Wales should now surely put this Brave Blossoms side away, even if they have rotated their side with a new half-back combination starting.

Rob Howley desperately needed that success over Argentina after the disastrous result and performance against the Wallabies on November 5. That win was in part down to the return of Liam Williams and it is interesting to see him switch places with Leigh Halfpenny this weekend. Wales will hope that move to full-back maximises his attacking threat so that he can cause Japan serious issues with his running ability.

Gareth Anscombe’s inclusion alongside Lloyd Williams shouldn’t see much, if any, dip in quality as the Cardiff Blues pair have been in a rich vein of form for their region this season. On the replacements bench there is also impact from Gareth Davies and Sam Davies to come.

Eyes will surely though be on young Ospreys wing Keelan Giles when he makes his debut off the bench. The 18-year-old has been impressive this term and with Alex Cuthbert struggling for form, a solid showing when he gets his chance could see Giles shoot up the pecking order.

Of course it is expected that George North and several others will return to face South Africa next week, but this is a rare opportunity for many in this side to impress. Howley will hope that is the case to give him a selection headache rather than negative media fallout.

For Japan the victory over Georgia was much-needed after the hammering they took against the Pumas. Head coach Jamie Joseph is of course still finding his feet in his new job and he’ll hope his senior players recapture their 2015 World Cup form when they run out in Cardiff.

Shota Horie, Amanaki Mafi, Fumiaki Tanaka and Harumichi Tatekawa will be key to their hopes of an upset but on paper it looks an unlikely prospect as Howley’s men should claim a comfortable win. That would set them up nicely for the big one against the Springboks, which will of course lead to November being viewed as either positive or negative from a Welsh standpoint. However, lose to Japan and the knives will be out.

Players to watch:

For Wales: Japan must avoid aimless kicking to Liam Williams or he’ll punish them. It’s a bold call from Rob Howley moving Leigh Halfpenny out of his favoured position, but such is the threat Williams that poses, there’s been few complaints from the masses. He should impress.

For Japan: Always a tough man to bring down, the Brave Blossoms need Amanaki Mafi in his best form if they’re to stand a chance this week. The number eight, who will play for the Rebels in 2017, will look to get his side go-forward ball. Expect him to go through a lot of work.

Head-to-head: We look at the two fly-halves here as Gareth Anscombe and Yu Tamura go up against each other. Tamura kicked eight points in Tbilisi and will need to be faultless in Cardiff, particularly with Japan missing the try-scoring threat of Lomano Lemeki on the wing. In Anscombe Wales possess and assured playmaker who offers a running game. If he enjoys a positive afternoon then Japan are in real trouble.

Previous results:

2013: Japan won 23-8 in Tokyo
2013: Wales won 22-18 in Osaka
2007: Wales won 72-18 in Cardiff
2004: Wales won 98-0 in Cardiff
2001: Wales won 53-30 in Tokyo
2001: Wales won 64-10 in Osaka
1999: Wales won 64-15 in Cardiff

Prediction: Japan, of course, will be no pushover but on paper we think the hosts have enough to win and with a bit to spare. Wales by 23.

The teams:

Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Leigh Halfpenny, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Alex Cuthbert, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 James King, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 Dan Lydiate, 5 Alun Wyn Jones, 4 Cory Hill, 3 Samson Lee, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Nicky Smith
Replacements: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Jake Ball, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Sam Davies, 23 Keelan Giles

Japan: 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Harumichi Tatekawa, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 6 Malgene Ilaua, 5 Samuela Anise, 4 Kyosuke Kajikawa, 3 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Satoshi Nakatani
Replacements: 16 Takeshi Hino, 17 Koki Yamamoto, 18 Heiichiro Ito, 19 Uwe Helu, 20 Shuhei Matsuhashi, 21 Yuhimaru Mimura, 22 Keisuke Uchida, 23 Amanaki Lotoahea

Date: Saturday, November 19
Venue: Principality Stadium
Kick-off: 14:30 GMT
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Craig Maxwell-Keys (England)
Television match official: Eric Gauzins (France)