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Preview: Japan v Italy

20th June 2014 09:11

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Fumiaki Tanaka japan Scrum half

Key threat: Fumiaki Tanaka

Japan will be looking to extend their record unbeaten run to 10 games when they host Italy at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo on Saturday.

The Brave Blossoms' are on a high after their recent run of victories - against Russia, Spain, Philippines, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Hong Kong, Samoa, Canada and the USA.

The Azzurri, by contrast, are yet to win a match in 2014 and are currently on an eight-match losing streak. But despite those statistics Jones and his charges expect a tough encounter against opponents who Japan are yet to beat in an international fixture,

"This is the toughest game of the year for us," Jones said.

"It's a real privilege to play Italy, who are a Six Nations country. Japan's record in not impressive against them We have played them five times and lost five so this is a fantastic opportunity to once again change Japanese rugby history."

"Games against any Six Nations side are all about controlling the set piece," said Jones.

"Our preparation has revolved around that and I believe if we get the set right then there will be opportunities to trouble the Italian defence."

Japan's form during their winning run have been sensational, especially in recent matches where they were registered valuable triumphs in the Pacific Nations Cup.

Two weeks ago, they trailed Canada 25-9 at half-time before scoring 25 unanswered points after the break to claim a 34-25 victory. And last weekend, they were deadlcoked at 17-17 with the USA before pulling away from their hosts in the second half before securing a 37-29 win.

Jones deserves plenty of credit for his side's superb form but despite his expertise, he has also added former Saracens and England second row Steve Borthwick to his coaching staff as the forwards coach.

Italy are desperate for a win as their tour has been disastrous so far. Two weeks ago they lost 25-14 to Fiji in Suva before suffering a humiliating 15-0 loss to Samoa in Apia last weekend.

Their strength lies in their forwards and that's where they will attack Japan. Coach Jacques Brunel has once again kept faith with the Treviso front row of Lorenzo Cittadini, Leonardo Ghiraldini and Alberto De Marchi, who are one of the strongest scrummaging units in the game.

Brunel has changed his team selection from week to week, especially at fly-half where Luciano Orquera returns to the run-on side at the expense of Tommaso Allan.

With Italy still to win a Test in 2014, the Azzurri's captain Quintin Geldenhuys knows the importance of this clash.

"We come from a series of defeats," he told the Italian Rugby Union's official website/

"It's been difficult during a long season, but we know how important it is to finish the tour with a win so that we can enter the coming season with confidence."

On the game itself Geldenhuys said the two teams' expansive styles should make for an entertaining spectacle.

"The pitch is very,fast here at Chichibu Stadium and I'm sure this will help the two teams to play the game at a quick pace," he explained.

"It is an aspect we changed under (coach) Brunel. Before we were a team that played mostly with our pack.

We might risk a bit more now by keeping the ball alive and play quickly whenever possible."

Players to watch:

For Japan: Scrum-half Fumiaki Tanaka might be small in stature but he has made a big contribution during his side's recent run of victories. The Highlanders number nine's sniping breaks around the fringes of rucks and mauls is sure to keep the Azzuri defenders on their toes and another strength is his ability to bring his forwards into the game. He also links well with his backline

For Italy: The Azzurri are under pressure and the decision-making of their captain Quintin Geldenhuys will be crucial if they want to end their tour with a win.

Head to Head: Both sides enjoy playing expansively and possess potent attacking weapons, particularly amongst the backs. The midfield battle will be crucial and Japan's Male Sa'u and Italy's Michele Campagnaro are both brilliant attackers, who can change the course of a game with a moment of brilliance.

Previous Results:
2011: Italy won 31-24, Cesena
2007: Italy won 36-12, Saint Vincent Aosta
2006: Italy won 52-6, Tokyo
2004: Italy won 32-19, Tokyo
1976: Italy won 25-3, Padova

Prediction: Italy have their backs to the wall while the hosts have their tails up in their own backyard. That homeground advantage swings things in the hosts' favour. Japan will win by five points!

The teams:

Japan: 15 Ayumu Goromaru, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Male Sa'u, 12 Yu Tamura, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Harumichi Tatekawa, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Ryu Koliniasi Holani, 7 Michael Leitch, 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 Shinya Makabe, 20 Hitoshi Ono, 21 Hendrik Tui, 22 Atsushi Hiwasa, 23 Toshiaki Hirosi.

Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Andrea Masi, 11 Giovambattista Venditti, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Robert Barbieri, 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Joshua Furno, 5 Marco Bortolami, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys (coffee), 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Alberto De Marchi.
Replacements: tbc

Date: Saturday, June 21
Kick-off: 14:00 local (06:00 BST, 05:00 GMT)
Venue: Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium, Tokyo
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
Television match official: Peter Marshall (Australia)
Assessor: Andrew Cole (Australia)