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Preview: Japan v Wales

Dan Biggar Wales Six Nations 2013Wales kingpin: Dan Biggar

A second-string Wales team will take on Japan in the first of a two-Test series in Osaka on Saturday.

This match, as well as the second Test in Tokyo, will be important for Wales as it will test their reserve strength particularly as they will be without the services of 15 of their first-choice players, who are currently on tour with the British and Irish Lions in Australia.

Wales’ starting line-up have just 100 Test appearances between them while the Brave Blossoms hold a significant edge in experience with a combined total of 293 Test caps.

Wales caretaker coach Robin McBryde has shrugged off doubts over his team’s inexperience and urged them not to fear failure. Instead he has backed his young novices to come through a tough baptism in the Far East climate.

“We want these guys to just go out and play their game,” he told Press Association Sport.

“We want them to back themselves, not fear failure.

“There’s a lot of talk about inexperience and the conditions but we have a group of ambitious young guys who want to stake their claim which they will do if they prepare well and play to the best of their ability.

“We haven’t focused on the inexperience. It’s about the environment we’ve created that will allow these young players to grow with this opportunity and we’re looking for something special on Saturday.

“We’ve picked a young group for their qualities. There is a real potential within the group and as a management group we are hugely expectant of a performance on Saturday because everyone is looking ahead to the next World Cup squad.”

Under the guidance of former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones, Japan have won 10 out of 15 internationals since he took over the reins from John Kirwan in 2012.

However, they are a side that have been battling in recent internationals.

If they lose on Saturday it will be their third consecutive defeat, having already lost both of their opening Pacific Nations Cup matches – to Tonga and Fiji – in the preceding weeks.

Despite his side’s poor form, Jones believes they can surprise Wales and clinch an unlikely win – which if successful, will be their first victory in nine attempts against the Six Nations champions.

“We think we can win this game but we’ll have to be at our best to do so,” he said.

“We don’t want to have any excuses. We’ve picked the strongest team available, we have a couple of big players back for us and it’s a great chance to test our style of game against one of the best teams in the world.”

Players to watch:

For Japan: It takes a special player to keep an All Black on the replacements bench but that’s exactly what Fumiaki Tanaka did at the Highlanders during this season’s Super Rugby competition. In last weekend’s match against the Blues, New Zealand’s first-choice scrum-half of 2012 Aaron Smith was left kicking his heels amongst the substitutes while Tanaka played a pivotal role in guiding the Dunedin-based franchise to only their second win of the season. The diminutive number nine’s strengths are his ability to bring other players – especially the forwards – into play and his sniping breaks around the fringes of the rucks and mauls.

For Wales: Fly-half Dan Biggar is an experienced campaigner who many pundits feel was unlucky not to be picked for the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia. With Jonny Wilkinson unlikely to be called up for the Lions, after undergoing surgery on a groin injury, Biggar will be keen to do well in the Tests against Japan to prove to Lions boss Warren Gatland that he is the right man to be called up if one of the current Lions pivots – Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell – should get injured.

Head-to-head: The battle between the hookers could have a huge bearing on this encounter. Japan’s Shota Horie might not have had as many starting opportunties at the Melbourne Rebels as Tanaka has had at the Highlanders but playing in the Super Rugby tournament would have improved his game considerably. He goes up against Emyr Phillips who has come to the fore with some impressive performances for the Scarlets this season. Although he is making his Test debut, the 26-year-old will be keen to reward McBryde for the faith he has placed in him.

Recent results:

2007: Wales won 72-18 in Cardiff
2004: Wales won 98-0 in Cardiff
2001:Wales won 53-30 in Tokyo
2001: Wales won 64-10 in Osaka
1999: Wales won 64-15 in Cardiff

Prediction: Even though this is a relatively inexperienced Wales team, they should hold too much firepower for the Brave Blossoms who have struggled recently. Wales to win by 25 points.

The teams:

Japan: 15 Ayumu Goromaru, 14 Yoshikazu Fujita, 13 Male Sau, 12 Craig Wing, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Harumichi Tatekawa, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Takashi Kikutani (c), 7 Michael Broadhurst, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Shoji Ito, 4 Hitoshi Ono, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Masataka Mikami.
Replacements: 16 Takeshi Kizu, 17 Yusuke Nagae, 18 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 19 Toshizumi Kitagawa, 20 Ryuta Yasui, 21 Atsushi Hiwasa, 22 Yu Tamura, 23 Hirotoki Onozawa.

Wales: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Harry Robinson, 13 Owen Williams, 12 Jonathan Spratt, 11 Dafydd Howells, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Rob McCusker, 7 James King, 6 Andrew Coombs, 5 Lou Reed, 4 Bradley Davies (capt), 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Emyr Phillips, 1 Ryan Bevington.
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Andries Pretorius, 20 Dan Baker, 21 Tavis Knoyle, 22 Rhys Patchell, 23 Tom Prydie.

Date: Saturday, June 8
Kick-off: 14:00 local (06:00 BST, 05:00 GMT)
Venue: Hanazono Field, Osaka
Referee: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Greg Garner (England), tba (Japan)
Assessor: Lyndon Bray

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