One of the most memorable matches in Rugby World Cup history is re-enacted in Kumagaya City on Friday as 2019 hosts Japan take on two-time winners South Africa, who they famously defeated at the last tournament in England to fuel an upsurge in the sport's popularity in Asia.
The match at the 26,500-capacity Kumagaya Rugby Stadium, one of the venues for RWC 2019, brings together two in-form teams that have taken silverware home in the past month, Japan claiming their third World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup title to equal their highest position in the rankings of ninth, while the Springboks claimed the Rugby Championship trophy.
Wary of coming unstuck at the hands of the Brave Blossoms for a second time, Springboks coach Rassie Erasmus has insisted there will be no sense of complacency on this occasion and has named what appears to be his strongest XV, while Japan will also be going at the match full tilt in a bid to enter their home tournament on a high.
Friday marks two weeks to go until Rugby World Cup 2019 kicks off and as well as Japan's match with South Africa, Scotland will be looking to secure back-to-back wins against Georgia at Murrayfield, following on from their emphatic victory seven days ago in Tbilisi, while England face Italy at St James' Park in Newcastle.
On Saturday, Ireland take on Wales for the second weekend in a row with both teams knowing they're in with a chance of overhauling New Zealand at the top of the World Rugby Men's Rankings. New Zealand are also in action, at home to Tonga in Hamilton, while Canada and the USA renew their rivalry in Vancouver and Australia play Samoa in Sydney.
JAPAN (10) v SOUTH AFRICA (5)
Almost a month has passed since Japan were last in action, and the starting line-up chosen by coach Jamie Joseph shows nine changes, two of them positional, to the one that clinched the Pacific Nations Cup title with a 34-20 win over the USA in Fiji.
In the pack, prop Keita Inagaki, second-row Uwe Helu, captain Michael Leitch and fellow flanker Pieter Labuschagne all return. Yu Tamura, one of three players to boast a half-century of caps, along with Leitch and Luke Thompson, is selected again at fly-half, while Kenki Fukuoka gets another run out on the left wing. Timothy Lafaele moves out one position to outside centre, the slot previously taken by William Tupou, who shifts to full-back with Ryoto Nakamura filling the vacancy in midfield.
Pieter-Steph du Toit, South Africa's Player of the Year for 2018, wins his 50th cap in a 23-man Springbok squad that is almost an exact mirror image of the one that drew 16-16 with the All Blacks in July. The return to the starting line-up of Springbok captain Siya Kolisi, now fully recovered from injury, is the only change to the team that took to the field in Wellington. Kolisi replaces Kwagga Smith – who drops out of the 23 altogether – in what has become an otherwise settled combination.
Flanker Kolisi and scrum-half Faf de Klerk are the only players to retain their place, however, from the Springboks' last encounter, a 24-18 win against Argentina at Loftus Versfeld.
- Japan have a 100 per cent record against South Africa, having famously won the only meeting between the teams, 34-32, in Brighton during RWC 2015
- Japan are unbeaten this year with wins against Fiji, Tonga and the USA
- South Africa are also unbeaten this year, having beaten Australia and Argentina (twice) and drawn 16-16 with the All Blacks
- South Africa will swap places with Wales if they win and the Welsh lose by more than 15 points to Ireland
- Second place is possible for South Africa, but this also needs England to lose to Italy and New Zealand to lose to Tonga by more than 15 points
- The Springboks cannot fall any lower than their current position of fifth
- Japan will climb above Fiji if they beat South Africa
- A Japanese win by more than 15 points, combined with defeat for Scotland against Georgia, would lift the Brave Blossoms to an all-time high of eighth
- Eighth is also possible if Japan win by a smaller margin so long as Scotland lose by more than 15 points
SCOTLAND (7) v GEORGIA (12)
Glasgow Warriors back-row Ryan Wilson will captain Scotland for the first time against Georgia at Murrayfield.
Head coach Townsend has made 12 changes to the starting side that defeated Georgia 44-10 at the Dinamo Arena. Tommy Seymour and number eight Blade Thomson have completed the graduated return to play protocol for concussions sustained against France almost a fortnight ago, while second-row Jonny Gray will feature for the first time since sustaining a hamstring strain in pre-season.
An entirely new pack will take to the field from the outset on Friday, with Glasgow Warriors pair George Turner and Zander Fagerson combining with loose-head Gordon Reid to make up the front-row. Scott Cummings has been promoted from the bench to feature alongside the returning Gray, while Jamie Ritchie completes the loose forward trio alongside Wilson and Thomson.
In the backs, Saracens centre Duncan Taylor combines with Sam Johnson in a new-look midfield, half-backs half Ali Price and Adam Hastings get their second chance to start together in the campaign, while Blair Kinghorn and Darcy Graham return to start alongside fit-again Seymour.
Georgia head coach Milton Haig has made seven changes, two of them positional, as his side look to overturn last week's 44-10 home defeat.
Packing down behind an unchanged front-row are Giorgi Nemsadze and Konstantine Mikautadze, who wears the four jersey instead of five. Beka Gorgadze retains his spot at number eight and he is joined in the back row by flankers Shalva Sutiashvili and Giorgi Tkhilaishvili.
Vasil Lobzhanidze and Tedo Abzhandadze are entrusted with the half-back duties once again, but Lasha Malaguradze comes into the midfield at inside centre meaning David Kacharava shifts out one position. Mirian Modebadze replaces Alexander Todua on the left wing with Zurabi Dzneladze and full-back Ioseb Matriashvili making up the back-three.
- Scotland are playing at Murrayfield for the first time on a Friday outside of a Rugby World Cup
- Scotland have won all three previous encounters with Georgia by an average of just over 23 points
- If Scotland win it will be their 300th test victory
- The 44-10 defeat to Scotland ended Georgia's seven-match winning run
- Scotland cannot climb any higher than their present position of seventh
- They will, though, drop below France if Georgia avenge last weekend’s defeat
- If they lose by more than 15 points – or Japan beat South Africa by that margin – then Scotland will fall to ninth
- Georgia must win by more than 15 points to climb above Argentina
- The Lelos will be overtaken by Italy if they lose and the Azzurri beat England
ENGLAND (3) v ITALY (13)
Owen Farrell leads a strong England team featuring local favourite Mark Wilson at openside. Newcastle Falcons player Wilson will be joined in a powerful back-row by Tom Curry and Billy Vunipola. Dan Cole starts alongside Jamie George and Joe Marler in the front row with Joe Launchbury and Courtney Lawes named as the second-row pairing.
In the backs, Ruaridh McConnochie is set to make his long-awaited debut on the right wing – barring any last-minute hiccups after twice being forced to withdraw on the eve of matches last month – with Jonny May providing the threat down the left. Anthony Watson reverts to full-back in the absence of Elliot Daly. Farrell starts at fly-half outside of Ben Youngs, while Piers Francis and Joe Marchant make up the midfield combination.
Dean Budd captains Italy for a second time as Conor O'Shea makes wholesale changes to last weekend's starting line-up against France.
Budd, who led the side out in their first RWC 2019 warm-up match against Ireland almost a month ago, packs down in the second-row alongside David Sisi. Simone Ferrari moves from loose-head to tight-head in a new-look front row that includes Nicola Quaglio on the other side of the scrum and hooker Oliviero Fabiani. Braam Steyn's move to openside sees the return of Sebastian Negri with the back-row completed by number eight Jimmy Tuivati.
Mattia Bellini and Jayden Hayward are the only players to wear the same jerseys in the backs with Callum Braley winning his third cap at scrum-half alongside Carlo Canna. Tommaso Benvenuti and Giulio Bisegni line up in midfield and winger Edoardo Padovani is the new addition to the back three.
- Played at Newcastle United Football Club's iconic St James' Park, the match with Italy is the first featuring England to have taken place outside of Twickenham in the country since the RWC 2015 pool fixture against Uruguay, which was held at the City of Manchester Stadium
- England have never lost to Italy in 25 previous tests
- England's average winning margin is 28 points
- Italy have only led twice at half-time, most recently at Twickenham in 2017 (10-5)
- A victorious England can only move up to second if both Ireland and New Zealand lose
- England will swap places again with South Africa if they lose and the Springboks avoid defeat against Japan
- Italy will replace Georgia in 12th if they win and the Lelos lose to Scotland
- Wins for USA and Tonga would see a beaten Italy slip down the rankings to 15th
- Combine the above with a Samoan victory by more than 15 points and the Azzurri would fall to their lowest ever ranking of 16th
NEW ZEALAND (1) v TONGA (15)
Captained by number eight Kieran Read, the All Blacks team features several changes from the side which played the Wallabies in the second Bledisloe Cup match at Eden Park on 17 August.
Hooker Codie Taylor and openside Matt Todd both win places in a starting pack that contains two test centurions in Read and Sam Whitelock. Taylor is accompanied in the front row by props Joe Moody and Nepo Laulala, while Patrick Tuipulotu partners Whitelock in the second row. Ardie Savea, at blindside, completes the back-row.
The backline sees four changes, including one positional. TJ Perenara replaces Aaron Smith at scrum-half and is partnered by two-time World Rugby Player of the Year recipient Beauden Barrett, who shifts from full-back. Ryan Crotty returns from injury to take the No.12 jersey off Sonny Bill Williams with Anton Lienert-Brown operating outside of him. Ben Smith comes into the side to fill the vacancy at full-back while George Bridge and Sevu Reece get another opportunity on the wings.
Tonga hand young Christchurch-based hooker Siua Maile his international debut as the 'Ikale Tahi wrap up their preparations for Japan with the toughest of assignments.
Maile, a roofer by trade, has never previously played in a first-class match and now finds himself coming up against the world champions. He is joined in the front-row by Siegfried Fisi'ihoi and Siosiua Halanukonuka. Young Sam Lousi continues his test match education in the second row alongside Leva Fifita, while the back-row is made up of Sione Kalamafoni, who wears the six jersey instead of his usual eight, Fotu Lokotui at openside and Maama Vaipulu at the back of the pack.
An experienced backline includes the fit-again Kurt Morath at fly-half with Sonatane Takulua supplying him with possession from the base of the scrum. Siale Piutau captains the side from inside centre with Malietoa Hingano stepping off the bench to serve as his midfield partner. Cooper Vuna moves back to the right wing as a result and Viliami Lolohea lines up on the left. David Halaifonua completes the starting line-up at full-back.
- The All Blacks have played Tonga on five occasions – four of which have been at the Rugby World Cup, and have won them all
- New Zealand have played Tonga twice in New Zealand, once in 2000 and again at Rugby World Cup 2011
- Samuel Whitelock will become the joint fifth most capped All Black this weekend, drawing level with Dan Carter's 112 tests
- Four of the five previous meetings between the sides have been at Rugby World Cups
- New Zealand cannot improve their rating with victory over Tonga – meaning they will lose top spot if Ireland win or Wales triumph by more than 15 points in Dublin
- New Zealand could drop as low as fifth if they lose by more than 15 points and other results go against them
- In this scenario, Tonga can climb as high as 12th
- Tonga can fall one place in defeat, but only if Samoa beat Australia
AUSTRALIA (6) v SAMOA (16)
David Pocock will captain Australia on his return from injury against Samoa at Bankwest Stadium in Western Sydney on Saturday.
The flanker is one of several experienced campaigners named in the starting XV, including test centurions Adam Ashley-Cooper, Will Genia and Sekope Kepu. While Genia and Kepu's international careers are entering the final stages with the pair having announced they will retire at the end of RWC 2019, Rob Valetini is set to start his. The Brumbies back-row is set to become Wallaby No.929 after being named on the bench by Michael Cheika.
Tight-head prop Michael Alaalatoa and scrum-half Scott Malolua will earn their first test caps for Manu Samoa after being named in Steve Jackson's starting XV.
Highlanders hooker Ray Niuia comes into the side at hooker with Jordan Lay completing the front-row on the opposite side of the scrum to Alaalatoa. There will be no family affair for Alaalatoa, though, as his brother Allan has not been selected for the Wallabies. Filo Paulo and Kane Le’aupepe make up the second-row pairing, while TJ Ioane is brought in to start at blindside flanker. Jack Ram captains the side at openside and Afaesetiti Amosa anchors the scrum at number eight having missed out on last week’s game against the New Zealand Heartland XV.
Tusi Pisi plays directly outside Malolua, replacing Ulupano Seuteni who drops out of the squad, while winger Belgium Tuatagaloa gets the 14 jersey over the benched Ahsee Tuala. Ed Fidow is named on the other wing and Tim Nanai-Williams lines up at full-back. Reynold Lee-Lo and Alapati Leiua are the centre pairing.
- Saturday’s test at Bankwest Stadium will be just the sixth match between the two proud rugby nations, and the first meeting since Samoa’s shock 32-23 in at ANZ Stadium in 2011
- That was Samoa's first and only win over the Wallabies in the five meetings to date
- Australia cannot improve their rating or position even with an emphatic victory
- Samoa cannot climb the rankings with a narrow victory unless the teams above them lose
- Samoa could gain as many as three places and move up to 13th – their highest position for more than four years – but it would need a weekend of upsets for that to happen
IRELAND (2) v WALES (4)
Joe Schmidt has named a much-changed starting XV for what is his final home match in charge of Ireland.
Rory Best will also be saying farewell to the Aviva Stadium as he is retiring after Rugby World Cup 2019 and the hooker comes back into the front-row to win his 120th cap. With Cian Healy and Tadgh Furlong packing down beside him, it makes for a powerful triumvirate. James Ryan and Jean Kleyn are named in the second row and CJ Stander and Josh van Flier get the flanker duties with Jack Conan starting again at number eight.
The big guns are back at half-back with Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton reunited and Saturday's match will also see the timely return of Robbie Henshaw and Keith Earls to the green jersey. Henshaw is partnered by midfield stalwart Bundee Aki, while Jordan Larmour finds himself on the opposite wing to Earls. Rob Kearney completes the strong line-up at full-back.
As for Wales, captain Alun Wyn Jones returns to the starting line-up as Warren Gatland rings the changes for the re-match with Ireland.
The most-capped Welshman will pack down with Jake Ball in the second-row with Aaron Wainwright, Justin Tipuric and Ross Moriarty comprising the back-row. Wyn Jones, Elliot Dee and Tomas Francis are the starting front-row for Saturday’s game at the Aviva Stadium.
Tomos Williams and Rhys Patchell are named at half-back with Hadleigh Parkes and Jonathan Davies lining up in midfield. Josh Adams, George North and Leigh Halfpenny form a new-look back-three for Wales.
- Wales leads the head-to-head 69-52 with seven draws
- Ireland ended Wales' 11-match home winning run with a 22-17 win at the Principality Stadium last week
- Wales have only scored over 25 points on one occasion this year (26 v Italy)
- Likewise, Ireland have yet to breach the 30-point barrier in 2019
- Ireland have yet to concede a yellow card all year, while Leon Brown's sin-binning last week was Wales' first of 2019
- With New Zealand unable to improve their rating with victory over Tonga, Ireland can climb to the top for first time if they beat Wales
- A draw would be enough to do this if New Zealand fail to beat Tonga
- Wales would drop to fifth in defeat if South Africa win by more than 15 points – unless England lose to Italy
- Wales will climb to second in victory or return to top spot if they win by more than 15
- The sides will swap places if Wales win and New Zealand, England and South Africa also triumph by less than 15 points
- Ireland will drop to fifth if they lose by more than 15 points and South Africa and England both win
CANADA (21) v USA (14)
Ciaran Hearn wins his 70th cap for Canada as coach Kingsley Jones opts to make seven changes, three of them positional, from the Canucks' last match, a 33-23 defeat to Tonga in the World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup almost a month ago.
While Hearn is one half of a settled midfield combination with Ben LeSage and DTH van der Merwe and Jeff Hassler feature again on the wings, there are changes elsewhere in the backline with Peter Nelson shifting from full-back to fly-half and Gordon McRorie moving inside one position from 10 to scrum-half. Pat Parfrey is called up off the bench to take on the full-back duties.
In the pack, Hubert Buydens is a new addition at loose-head, Evan Olmstead wears the number four on his back instead of five to accommodate the arrival of Kyle Baillie into the second-row. Justin Blanchet replaces Luke Campbell at six with Lucas Rumball and captain Tyler Ardron lining up at openside and number eight respectively.
USA Eagles head coach Gary Gold’s match-day 23 features a number of players who will get crucial playing time before final selections for Rugby World Cup 2019 are made with the squad to be announced on Sunday.
Prop Eric Fry and prolific try-scoring hooker Joe Taufete’e return from the injuries that kept them out of the World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup to make the starting line-up, while Olive Kilifi and Mike Te’o are also fit again and take their place on the bench.
Fry, who makes his first appearance for the Eagles since June 2018, and Taufete’e pack down in a front-five that is entirely based overseas. Titi Lamositele, of European champions Saracens, joins them in the front row, while English Championship players Ben Landry and Greg Peterson combine in the second row. The domiciled Hanco Germishuys and John Quill fill the role of flanker with New Orleans Gold's Cam Dolan providing a wealth of experience at number eight.
Captain Blaine Scully will lead the team in his 50th test for the Eagles, an honour shared by only 10 others, from the right wing with sevens star Martin Iosefo lining up on the other flank. Controlling matters at half-back are Nate Augspurger and Will Magie, while big-hitter Paul Lasike and Marcel Branche form the centre pairing with Will Hooley at full-back.
The Canada team is yet to be announced by coach Kingsley Jones.
- USA and Canada have met 62 times in history. The Eagles have won 22 times, the Canadians 38 and two matches have resulted in a draw
- The Eagles will face Canada for the third time this calendar year, having won their first meeting in the Americas Rugby Championship 30-25 in March and then 47-19 in the Pacific Nations Cup in July
- USA will climb one place if they win and Italy lose to England
- USA will drop below Tonga if they lose to Canada, even if the ‘Ikale Tahi are also beaten
- If Samoa also stun Australia then USA will drop another place to 16th
- Canada will fall one place in defeat, two if by more than 15 points which would mean they enter RWC 2019 as the lowest ranked of the 20 teams
- Canada cannot catch Russia above even if they triumph by more than 15 points
The World Rugby Men’s Rankings will update at 12:00 Dublin time on Monday