HAVING GOT its ‘easy’ matches out of the way, Japan has plenty to play for in its remaining two Rugby World Cup games.
The quest to come away from the 2011 instalment of the global tournament with two victories begins tomorrow night in Whangarei, where the Brave Blossoms take on Tonga at the Northland Events Centre.
After a superb performance during the 47-21 loss to France first up, coach John Kirwan made 10 changes for last week's match against tournament favourites New Zealand, resting many of his front-line players.
But having targeted the game against Tonga – as well as the last pool match against Canada – as must-win fixtures, Kirwan has restored his top line-up for a match he believes the team is capable of winning.
The only men who survive the mass of changes are flanker Itaru Taniguchi, wing Hirotoki Onozawa, fullback Shaun Webb and skipper Takashi Kikutani.
Japan beat Tonga 28-27 when the two teams clashed in the Pacific Nations Cup earlier this year.
Kirwan, however, expects Wednesday's clash to be an even greater battle.
“This is the World Cup, so it'll be different from the PNC,” he says.
“I expect it to be a lot more aggressive, especially the first 20 to 30 minutes.
“Both of us have lost our first two games, so the match will be crucial for the two sides.
“It'll be like a World Cup final for us.”
Japan: Shaun Webb, Kosuke Endo, Alisi Tupuailai, Ryan Nicholas, Hirotoki Onozawa, James Arlidge, Fumiaki Tanaka, Takashi Kikutani (c), Michael Leitch, Itaru Taniguchi, Toshizumi Kitagawa, Luke Thompson, Kensuke Hatakeyama, Shota Horie, Hisateru Hirashima
Replacements: Yusuke Aoki, Nozomu Fujita, Hitoshi Ono, Sione Talikavili Vatuvei, Atsushi Hiwasa, Takehisa Usuzuki, Murray Williams.
With the series level, expect both teams to put it all on the line as they seek to win the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday night.