Tokyo - Japan
captain Michael Leitch said on Friday that the Brave Blossoms were capable
of pulling off a shock victory over a weakened All Blacks team this
The New Zealand-born skipper evoked the spirit of Japan's astonishing
34-32 win over South Africa at the 2015 Rugby World Cup on the eve of
Saturday's clash with the All Blacks in Tokyo.
"When you look at the number of Test matches collectively in the
team, it's not so much and their Test match experience is not so much
there," said Leitch, pointing to a second-string New Zealand squad that
includes eight new caps.
"There is an opportunity to pressure the leadership group. If we are
going to take the All Blacks down, then it is going to be tomorrow."
The world champions have met Japan three times in the past, racking
up a combined 282 points, including a World Cup record 145-17 demolition
of the Brave Blossoms in 1995.
But All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has made wholesale changes to the
team that beat Australia 37-20 last weekend, sending his big-hitters to
Europe early to prepare for Tests against England, Ireland and Italy.
His new-look squad has just 178 Tests between them and Leitch believes Japan could take advantage.
Japan, once the whipping boys of the World Cup, went on to record
further victories against Samoa and the United States at the 2015
tournament under former coach Eddie Jones after stunning two-time
champions South Africa.
They have ticked over solidly since under former All Black Jamie
Joseph, but Leitch also praised the influence of assistant John
Plumtree, who has been helping the 2019 World Cup hosts as defence coach
since last October.
been excellent for us," said Leitch.
"Him coming into the team has been
fantastic. He's one of the best defence coaches in the world.
"The Japanese have always been a passive team," he added. "He is
always telling us to get off the line and to pressure them with line
speed so he has been great for us."
The All Blacks, who beat Japan 54-6 in their last meeting in Tokyo
five years ago, know what to expect from the home side, said Saturday's
captain Luke Whitelock.
"Japanese rugby is very fast," said the loose forward, who skippers the All Blacks for the first time in a Test match.
"They're high-skilled and they'll be running all over the field with
ball in hand or ball to the foot. They won't die wondering."
But Whitelock promised the All Blacks would come out fired up against Japan.
"It's young in caps - but high in excitement and plenty of energy,"
he said of a relatively inexperienced side.
"People just want to go out
there and express themselves and play well as a team."
Asked about the honour of leading out the All Blacks, Whitelock was almost lost for words.
"I guess I'll just enjoy the occasion," he smiled.
"It goes very, very fast - just take a minute, enjoy it for what it is."
15 Ryohei Yamanaka, 14 Jamie Henry, 13 William Tupou, 12 Timothy Lafaele, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Yutaka Nagare, 8 Hendrik Tui, 7 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 6 Michael Leitch (captain), 5 Samuela Anise, 4 Wimpie van der Walt, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Yusuke Niwai, 1 Keita Inagaki
Substitutes: 16 Yusuki Niwai, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Asaeli Valu, 19 Uwe Helu, 20 Vaka Nakajima, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Rikiya Matsuda 23 Ryoto Nakamura
15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 8 Luke Whitelock (captain), 7 Dalton Papali'i, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Jackson Hemopo, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ofa Tu'ungafasi
Substitutes: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Dillon Hunt, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Mitch Drummond, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 George Bridge