All you need to know about the Test between England and Japan at Twickenham
Autumn Internationals: England v Japan preview
How refreshing to see Japan interrupt the usual superpower roster, with the world’s 11th-ranked nation about to play only their second official Test against England.
The first was way back in 1987, Mike Harrison’s side winning 60-7 in Sydney in the inaugural World Cup, although England have toured Japan on a number of occasions.
In 1971, for example, an England XV led by Budge Rogers had to scrap hard for wins by 27-19 and 6-3. Instead of a coin toss before the first meeting in Osaka, the teams played a game of ‘paper, stone, scissors’ to decide who had choice of ends. How unfortunate that the FA suspended a football referee for taking the same harmless action in a recent WSL match.
England coach Eddie Jones has close ties to this weekend’s opposition, of course. He has a Japanese wife, Hiroko, and has spent years coaching in the country, including his first steps on the coaching ladder in the mid-Nineties when he took charge of the Tokai University team in Tokyo (and banned them from kicking).
The seeds of Japan’s famous victory over the Springboks at RWC 2015, when Jones was head coach, were sown by his uncompromising attitude to defeat.
Japan captain Michael Leitch referred to that this week, saying: “The great thing that Eddie did in Japanese rugby was to change the mindset. The national team always accepted losing and he changed that and set us on the right track. We can’t accept losing, we can’t accept saying we did our best but we lost.”
Once again, the pay discrepancy between England’s players and Tier Two opponents has been highlighted, with news that some Japan players are receiving £13 a day on tour compared to England players’ £25,000 a cap.
That’s not England’s fault and they should not feel guilty, nor underestimate a team that two weeks ago stuck 31 points on the All Blacks. Japan are a far cry from the teams that used to crush all Asian opposition but subside against the major rugby nations. They are here to play.
What’s the big team news?
Wholesale England changes – 11 in all – were expected but the latest curveball is the selection of Jack Nowell at 13. It’s an idea Eddie Jones mooted last season and, in fact, the Exeter wing replaced Jonathan Joseph at centre in the 2017 win against France.
Nowell lines up outside Alex Lozowski and ten George Ford – captain for the second time following the Samoa match last autumn and winning his 50th cap.
As expected, 21-year-old Bath bulldozer Joe Cokanasiga makes his Test debut, necessitating a switch of sides for Chris Ashton. Cokanasiga, who was born in Suva but moved to England aged three, was in a troupe of traditional Fijian dancers that performed at the RWC 2015 opener at Twickenham.
Up front, George Kruis’s calf injury allows Charlie Ewels to come in, with specialist lock Courtney Lawes starting at six – as he did throughout this year’s Six Nations. The All Blacks’ introduction of a third lock, Scott Barrett, at Twickenham last weekend helped turn the game and it seems to be very much in vogue, because on the same day Argentina fielded Guido Petti at six in Dublin.
Mark Wilson moves to seven to give a deserved first start to Bath No 8 Zach Mercer and the bench features uncapped flanker Ted Hill, 19, who only made his Worcester debut in September. If Japan know little about him, the same can be said of his England team-mates.
Japan make eight changes to the team that lost to New Zealand earlier this month. Fumiaki Tanaka, who was the first Japanese player to play Super Rugby, comes in at scrum-half while Will Tupou shifts from centre to full-back.
Veteran hooker Shota Horie, one of the stars of Japan’s RWC 2015 campaign, is absent, having not made the tour squad because of a fractured foot.
Japan finish their European tour against Russia at Kingsholm on 24 November.
What have the coaches said?
England head coach Eddie Jones said: “Japan is an important game for us as we want to get back to winning ways. We have also tested ourselves in having a shorter preparation. We gave the players two days off after three weeks of intensive work. We’ve had a short preparation but a good preparation.
“This weekend is a good opportunity for us to test the depth of the squad. A number of players have changed their roles going from finishers to starters and starters to finishers, so that is the essential change to the squad. It is exciting to be able to give starting opportunities to Zach Mercer and Joe Cokanasiga, and young Ted Hill on the bench.
“We are expecting plenty of energy, aggression and fast ball movement from Japan. They will be full of surprises, quick taps, lineouts and plays. They are going to have a bag of magic.
“Last week the fans were absolutely exceptional in the atmosphere they created for the players. It was the best I have seen and we are looking forward to more of that on Saturday.”
Japan head coach Jamie Joseph: “Eddie Jones is a great coach. He has coached club rugby in Japan for many years and has got a lot of relationships. We’ve got a lot of those players here.
“The fact England are targeting us physically is no secret; what we do about that we’ll see on Saturday. It hasn’t changed our approach to the game but we’re going to have to tackle them.
“We’re going to have to take what comes at us and throw something back. I think some of our players are up to it mentally and physically. We do have smaller men and we do play the game differently because of that, so we try to keep the game quick.”
Any interesting statistics?
* The only previous Test between the countries, at RWC 1987, saw England score ten tries in a 60-7 rout. Wings Mike Harrison (three) and Rory Underwood (two) scored half of them.
* Japan played at Twickenham in October 1986, losing 39-12 in front of 25,000 spectators. Skipper Richard Hill was one of six Bath players in the home line-up.
* George Ford becomes the fourth fly-half to win 50 caps for England after Jonny Wilkinson (91), Rob Andrew (71) and Toby Flood (60). Mike Catt won 75 caps but in multiple positions.
* Japan have won 11 of their last 17 matches in Europe. Their last game on the continent saw them draw 23-23 with France last year – the best result of Jamie Joseph’s 25-match tenure.
What time does it kick off and is it on TV?
The match at Twickenham kicks off at 3pm UK time on Saturday and is live on Sky Sports. There will also be live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live and online.
Taking the whistle is New Zealand’s Paul Williams, who three years ago became the first full-time professional referee from the Taranaki province.
His assistant referees for this match are Welshmen Nigel Owens and Dan Jones, with South Africa’s Marius Jonker again fulfilling TMO duties following his call to rule out Sam Underhill’s late try against the All Blacks last week.
What are the line-ups?
ENGLAND Elliot Daly; Joe Cokanasiga, Jack Nowell, Alex Lozowski, Chris Ashton; George Ford (capt), Danny Care; Alec Hepburn, Jamie George, Harry Williams, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Mark Wilson, Zach Mercer.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Ted Hill, 20 Sam Underhill, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Henry Slade.
JAPAN Will Tupou; Akihito Yamada, Timothy Lafaele, Ryoto Nakamura, Kenki Fukuoka; Yu Tamura, Fumiaki Tanaka; Keita Inagaki Atsushi Sakate, Jiwon Koo, Wimpie van der Walt, Uwe Helu, Michael Leitch (capt), Masakatsu Nishikawa, Kazuki Himeno,
Replacements 16 Yusuke Niwai, 17 Koki Yamamoto, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Samuela Anise, 20 Hendrik Tui, 21 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 22 Yutaka Nagare, 23 Rikiya Matsuda.
The World Rugby Museum at Twickenham has opened a special exhibition called ‘Brave Blossoms’ which charts the history of rugby in Japan.
The exhibition tells the story of how ‘the father of Japanese rugby’, Ginosuke Tanaka, first brought the sport to Keio University and how a series of sporting pioneers, including members of the Japanese Royal Family, allowed the sport to flourish.
Recommended videos for you
It examines how Japanese corporations have nurtured the game at domestic level, allowing Japanese rugby to make significant impacts on the international stage, culminating in the famous victory by the Brave Blossoms over the Springboks at RWC 2015 and the awarding of the 2019 World Cup to Japan.
The World Rugby Museum is located in the South Stand of Twickenham. Visitors can watch an extensive interview with England coach Eddie Jones, while notable items on display include the oldest rugby jersey in Japan, the oldest Japanese international jersey and a jersey from the 2015 victory over South Africa.