After getting thoroughly destroyed by a rampant Australia, Wales finally got back to winning ways with a tense victory over Argentina. Their sights now turn to the next challenge – Japan.
The two teams have met nine times with Wales emerging victorious in eight of those matches, although Japan won their last encounter in 2014 23-8. Wales have just exited a long run of defeats with their win over Argentina at the weekend, while Japan bounced back from their loss to the Pumas two weeks ago to beat Georgia 28-22.
Wales will be looking to build on the improvements in defense that they showed against Argentina on Saturday. With the Japanese likely to want to play a running game, the choke tackle that stifled the Pumas attacking platform is expected to be featured prominently. They should also be looking to dominate the lineout, as Japan were particularly susceptible to the driving maul against Georgia at the weekend. Wales will also be looking to build their confidence in terms of finishing tries, as they left several points out on the field last weekend. Rob Howley will surely be hoping for a much more clinical performance in attack against Japan in order to best prepare the team for their match against South Africa next weekend. Finally, someone should tell this Wales side that it is perfectly acceptable to sometimes go for the three points, instead of continuously hoping that their forwards will eventually break through to cross the line. In team news, exciting teenage prospect Keelan Giles may make his debut on the wing. Wales’ coaching setup will also have to decide if they should rest some of the older squad players or prioritize continuity before the Springboks game.
This is not to say that Japan come into this game already written off. Japan’s development over the past 12 months has been fascinating to watch, although they have not quite kicked on from an impressive world cup campaign that featured ‘that win’ against the Springboks. Unfortunately for the Cherry Blossoms their injury list is extensive, and the majority of their squad has only just made the step up to international level. In fact only 12 of the team that beat South Africa have made it into the squad this year. Fullback Goromaru remains the biggest absentee, and the team will sorely miss his experience on Saturday. Another recent addition to the injury list is Lomano Lemeki, who looked impressive on the wing against Georgia scoring 2 tries. They will need to be much more vigilant in defense if they want to cause an upset. Georgia’s first try against them was down to a complete breakdown in communication, with the Japanese players seeming to just stop allowing the Georgian team to calmly saunter over the line. They will need influential number 8 Amanaki Mafi to be firing on all cylinders linking the play between the forwards and the backs and possibly engaging in a few barn-storming runs of his own.
Wales’ experience should be enough to see them over the line fairly convincingly, but the spectre of their loss against Japan two years ago, combined with a worrying downward trend, means that if Japan can get their quicker runners going at the weekend Wales could be in for a very uncomfortable afternoon.