Chile makes its Rugby World Cup debut on Sunday and Japan believes it knows what's coming in Toulouse.
“A very gritty side,” Japan defense coach John Mitchell said. “They have showed determination to get entry into the World Cup, and in all their warmup games they have demonstrated real cohesiveness and ability to fight for each other.”
Back-rower Jack Cornelsen said, “A big, physical side, good with the ball in hand. Once they get momentum, they're a tough team to stop.”
Captain Kazuki Himeno warned, “They will be strong mentally. The collisions are tough, it is their strength.”
Head coach Jamie Joseph added, “They're motivated to have a very good performance and put us under pressure. Rightfully so, they should have confidence and they will look to put the pressure on in the first 20 minutes. So we'll be focusing on ensuring that doesn't happen.”
Thanks to the internet, it's easier than, say, 20 years ago to do homework on an opponent that's never been met.
Chile hasn't been hiding exactly. After joining World Rugby in 1991, Los Condores tried qualifying straight away for the 1995 World Cup. They finally made the breakthrough last year when they beat the United States 52-51 on aggregate after winning the second leg in Colorado 31-29 from 19-0 down.
Chile hasn't won a fixture since then, but this year it has come within two points of Uruguay, Namibia and an Argentina XV. There's variety in the way the Chileans have scored tries, they have a tackle rate of about 80%, but their fitness and defense have faded in the second half.
Even after all of the homework, Japan should win comfortably in Toulouse.
The Japanese have talked about building on their historic 2019 quarterfinal appearance and winning the World Cup against all of the odds, but the record this year doesn't offer any confidence. Japan was well beaten at home by Fiji 35-12 in the Pacific Nations Cup decider, and succumbed to Italy 42-21 in Treviso in the last warmup.
Joseph wasn't deterred in his last hurrah with Japan.
“The draw we have is very similar to 2019 in that we had Russia first up and then matches against progressively more difficult opposition,” he said. “We're not getting too far ahead around anything. Our first focus is ourselves ... and getting back to playing our best rugby.”
Japan played better last year, but will introduce one of its finds, flanker Kanji Shimokawa, who will make his first start after less than 80 minutes of test rugby. He impressed off the bench against New Zealand in October and Fiji in August to be picked ahead of Shota Fukui, who started against Italy, and in the absence of Pieter Labuschagne, who was suspended for this match.
The second row issues have been resolved by the selections of Amato Fakatava, recovered from a foot injury, and Jack Cornelsen, who played lock for Japan up to last year but has been a back-rower for club and country this year. Locks James Moore and Uwe Helu were dropped from the squad but Warner Dearns has returned from injury to make the reserves.
Rikiya Matsuda has won the early flyhalf tussle after playing behind Yu Tamura at the 2019 World Cup and then being overtaken by Seungsin Lee this year. Kotaro Matsushima, after two seasons as Clermont's fullback, was back on the wing where he featured in 2019.
Temperatures are forecast to rise from 27 degrees to 30 during the game, but Japan has been playing in heat all year.
“With the heat you get a slippery ball, and the way we play, with the amount of passes we execute, nearly double the amount of other teams, it puts a lot of pressure on our skillset,” Joseph said. “We've trained very well this week, so whatever comes on Sunday, the focus will be to get on with the business.”
Chile features flyhalf Rodrigo Martinez, who was awarded world's best try of 2022 for a solo score against the United States, and sharp outside backs Santiago Videla and Inaki Ayarza. But the team was hit this week by an injury to wing Nicolas Garafulic which is forcing him home.
Japan: Semisi Masirewa, Kotaro Matsushima, Dylan Riley, Ryoto Nakamura, Jone Naikabula, Rikiya Matsuda, Yutaka Nagare; Kazuki Himeno (captain), Kanji Shimokawa, Michael Leitch, Amato Fakatava, Jack Cornelsen, Gu Jiwon, Atsushi Sakate, Keita Inagaki. Reserves: Shota Horie, Craig Millar, Asaeli Ai Valu, Warner Dearns, Shota Fukui, Naoto Saito, Tomoki Osada, Lomano Lemeki.
Chile: Inaki Ayarza, Santiago Videla, Domingo Saavedra, Matias Garafulic, Franco Velarde, Rodrigo Fernandez, Marcelo Torrealba; Alfonso Escobar, Raimundo Martínez, Martín Sigren (captain), Javier Eissmann, Clemente Saavedra, Matias Dittus, Diego Escobar, Javier Carrasco. Reserves: Augusto Bohme, Salvador Lues, Inaki Gurruchaga, Pablo Huete, Santiago Pedrero, Ignacio Silva, Lukas Carvallo, José Ignacio Larenas.
AP Rugby World Cup: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby