Canada and Japan clash in Napier today, 5pm local time, in a replay of the nail-biting 12-all draw in France that denied either side a victory in the 2007 World Cup. Third place in Pool A will guarantee one of the three minnows in the pool automatic qualification to the 2015 World Cup; so far Canada surprisingly lie in pole position after pinching a win against Tonga but need one last effort against the Brave Blossoms to complete a strong World Cup campaign. Japan have already fallen short of John Kirwan’s target of two World Cup wins; after arriving in New Zealand in good form, the diminutive outfit shone in defeat against France but failed to dispatch a physical Tongan outfit. Japan therefore need a bonus point victory to have a chance of finishing anywhere other than bottom of the pool; this is a tough prospect however with the Canucks riding a strong vein of form.
Canada has played largely the same XV throughout the tournament and Kiwi coach Kieran Crowley has kept to the same philosophy for their last meaningful match of the tournament. Wing Matt Evans returns from injury to start ahead of Ciaran Hearn in the only change to the backline, while expat Kiwi Jeremy Kyne earns a place on the bench for the first time in the tournament. There are no changes to a physical pack that competed admirably against the French until running out of puff in the closing stages of a tight game.
Japan make just two changes to the team that played Tonga as John Kirwan looks for continuity after resting their stars in defeat to hosts New Zealand. Sione Vatuvei replaces flanker Itaru Taniguchi due to an injury to the latter, while Nozomu Fujita joins the front row at the expense of Kensuke Hatakeyama in a pack led by the ever-smiling Takashi Kikutani. Fly-half James Arlidge remains the key man in an unchanged backline that has threatened at times in New Zealand but is yet to produce a match-defining performance.
Players to watch:
Michael Leitch has won many plaudits in 2011; the young Kiwi flanker saved his adopted team from two certain tries against Tonga – earning a man-of-the-match award despite playing for a losing cause – and his presence is sorely needed against a well-drilled Canadian outfit.
Ander Monro is a critical part of the tactically sound Canucks and kept Canada in touch with France last week despite conceding kicking duties to an off-key James Pritchard; with a solid kicking display featuring two smart field goals amongst a raft of well-executed high kicks to emphasise his good form.
Canada: 1. Hubert Buydens, 2. Pat Riordan (capt), 3. Jason Marshall, 4. Jebb Sinclair, 5. Jamie Cudmore, 6. Adam Kleeberger, 7. Chauncey O’Toole, 8. Aaron Carpenter, 9. Ed Fairhurst, 10. Ander Monro, 11. Phil Mackenzie, 12. Ryan Smith, 13. DTH van der Merwe, 14. Matt Evans, 15. James Pritchard.
Reserves: 16. Ryan Hamilton, 17. Scott Franklin, 18. Tyler Hotson, 19. Jeremy Kyne, 20. Sean White, 21. Nathan Hirayama, 22. Conor Trainor.
Japan: 1. Hisateru Hirashima, 2. Shota Horie, 3. Nozomu Fujita, 4. Luke Thompson, 5 Toshizumi Kitagawa, 6. Sione Vatuvei, 7. Michael Leitch, 8. Takashi Kikutani (capt), 9. Fumiaki Tanaka, 10. James Arlidge, 11. Hirotoki Onozawa, 12. Ryan Nicholas, 13. Alisi Tupuailai, 14. Kosuke Endo, 15. Shaun Webb.
Reserves: 16. Yusuke Aoki, 17. Kensuke Hatakeyama, 18. Hitoshi Ono, 19. Toetuu Taufa, 20. Atsushi Hiwasa, 21. Murray Williams, 22. Bruce Robins.