New Zealand face Japan without injured McCaw
HAMILTON, 16 Sept. - Hooker Keven Mealamu will lead New Zealand in their second Pool A match against a Japan team determined to show the rugby world how much they have improved under coach and former All Black great John Kirwan.
Injuries at training on Wednesday to captain Richie McCaw and full back Mils Muliaina have forced a reshuffle of coach Graham Henry's starting XV and the reserves bench for the match against the Brave Blossoms.
Japan will want to forget the last time they faced New Zealand in a Test match - the All Blacks recorded a crushing 145-17 victory in Bloemfontein, South Africa, at Rugby World Cup 1995.
"As soon as we found out that we were playing New Zealand in New Zealand, that defeat crossed everyone's minds," said Japan second row Toshizumi Kitagawa.
Ryan Nicholas, who played centre in the Japan team that impressed in their opening match against France on Saturday, added: "We don't talk about the past.
"It's just nice that people can see the improvements that we have made and take a team like France close for most of the game."
Coach Kirwan believes his team will go into the game against the tournament favourites with nothing to lose.
"You can look at it two ways: a hard task or an exciting opportunity. And we're taking the exciting opportunity approach," Kirwan said.
"One thing we've spoken about all week is accuracy because the All Blacks are pretty complete right across the field. If you're not accurate all night, you'll pay for that."
New Zealand coach Henry says his team have great respect for the Brave Blossoms and will not underestimate them.
“There is no doubt that they are a very good team and well coached by John Kirwan and Mick Byrne," he said.
"They are physical at the breakdown, play the game at speed and will be a real threat if we let them play like that. We will have to be on top of our game.”
The All Blacks have made eight changes to the team that defeated Tonga 41-10, headlined by fly half Dan Carter's withdrawal because of a back injury.
Colin Slade replaces Carter, while Andy Ellis comes in for scrum half Jimmy Cowan. Isaia Toeava will now start at fullback, Adam Thomson replaces McCaw at openside flanker and Conrad Smith reunites with Ma'a Nonu in the centres.
Japan have made 11 changes to the line-up that lost 47-21 to France in their opening match of the tournament.
Fly half James Arlidge, who scored all of his team's 21 points against the French, will be rested on Friday, as coach Kirwan keeps his big guns in cotton wool until the Brave Blossoms' more winnable games against Tonga and Canada.