The All Blacks head to Hamilton under a worrying injury cloud ahead of Friday’s match against a confident Japanese outfit coming off a strong performance against France. Already shorn of the services of Daniel Carter, New Zealand have been deprived of Israel Dagg, Mils Muliaina and Richie McCaw in one foul swoop on the eve of the match, denying McCaw the chance to become the first All Black centurion in the process. The host nation have depth in droves and will still be far too strong for the Brave Blossoms, but will be wary of a team that pushed France far closer than the score-line suggested in their best World Cup performance to date. Japan field a weakened team, however; expect a high score from a strong All Blacks team that will look to send a signal to their Cup competitors after a slow first round.
New Zealand, despite injuries to their top two fullbacks and the talismanic Canterbury duo of McCaw and Carter, is able to field a world-class XV. Isaiah Toeava returns to a modified back-line in his preferred position at full-back, while the seasoned midfield combination of Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu is seen for the first time at the tournament. Young fly-half Colin Slade is given a chance to impress, while Cory Jane and the impressive Richard Kahui will state their claims for the starting wing berths. Adam Thompson replaces McCaw while Victor Vito retains the No. 8 jersey in the continued absence of Kieran Reid.
John Kirwan has named ten changes to the team that performed with such aplomb against France, resting the majority of his Kiwi contingent for later matches while giving his fringe players a runin a game the Japanese look content to concede. Kiwi fly-half Murray Williams faces the country of his berth, replacing the outstanding James Arlidge, while veteran Hirotoki Onozawa and Koji Taira retain their positions in a otherwise unrecognisable back-line. Captain Takashi Kikutani leads his team once more in a pack that contains five further changes.
Players to watch:
Isaiah Toeava has destroyed many Super rugby defences when given the space afforded to a full-back and needs to stand out for any chance of making the run-on XV later in the tournament.
Japan have high hopes for young New Zealand–born flanker Michael Leich, of Tongan ancestry, who impressed against the French and will look to trouble a makeshift All Black back row in his second consecutive game.
New Zealand: 15 Isaia Toeava, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Richard Kahui, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Adam Thomson, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 John Afoa, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Anthony Boric, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Piri Weepu, 22 Sonny Bill Williams.
Japan: 15 Taihei Ueda, 14 Takahisa Usuzuki, 13 Koji Taira, 12 Yuta Imamura, 11 Hirotoki Onozawa, 10 Murray Williams, 9 Atsushi Hiwasa, 8 Takashi Kikutani (c), 7 Michael Leitch, 6 Itaru Taniguchi, 5 Toshizumi Kitagawa, 4 Hithoshi Ono, 3 Nozomu Fujita, 2 Yusuke Aoki, 1 Naoki Kawamata
Replacements: 16 Hiroki Yuhara, 17 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 18 Yuji Kitagawa, 19 Sione Talikavili Vatuvei, 20 Tomoki Yoshida, 21 Shaun Webb, 22 Alisi Tupuailai.