Japan come to play in first match with British & Irish Lions

·2-min read

EDINBURGH, Scotland (AP) — Japan has been spouting fighting words before facing the British and Irish Lions for the first time on Saturday at Murrayfield.

Japan was lined up to give the Lions a warmup for their eight-match, three-test tour of South Africa, for which they depart on Sunday.

But Japan isn’t interested in making the Lions look good.

"We've been doing our best to prepare, so we can go there and win,” captain Michael Leitch said.

Japan has had only a warmup game, two weeks ago, in its only action since the 2019 Rugby World Cup quarterfinals. The team has been training in Edinburgh for a week, and coach Jamie Joseph has preferred experience to try and make sure the team hits the ground running on Saturday.

The starting XV has 14 players from the Rugby World Cup squad, plus new wing Siosaia Fifita. There's three more uncapped players in the reserves; New Zealand-born prop Craig Millar and Australia-born flanker Jack Cornelsen from the Top League champion Panasonic Wild Knights, and scrumhalf Naoto Saito from the league runner-up Suntory Sungoliath.

Clermont wing Kotaro Matsushima, who joined the squad in Edinburgh with loose forward Kazuki Himeno, was starting while the Highlander was in the reserves.

Joseph said on Thursday it was “a strong, competitive team” picked to battle the Lions in the set-pieces so its “capable of putting pressure back onto the opposition and taking our opportunities to score points when they come.”

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Japan: Ryohei Yamanaka, Kotaro Matsushima, Timothy Lafaele, Ryoto Nakamura, Siosaia Fifita, Yu Tamura, Kaito Shigeno; Amanaki Lelei Mafi, Pieter Labuschagne, Michael Leitch (captain), James Moore, Wimpie van der Walt, Jiwon Koo, Atsushi Sakate, Keita Inagaki. Reserves: Kosuke Horikoshi, Craig Millar, Asaeli Ai Valu, Jack Cornelsen, Kazuki Himeno, Tevita Tatafu, Naoto Saito, Rikiya Matsuda.

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