Preview: England v Japan

Unfamiliarity could well breed unpredictability as England play only their second-ever Test match against Japan this weekend.

Unfamiliarity could well breed unpredictability as England play only their second-ever Test match against Japan this weekend.

Having been edged out so agonisingly by New Zealand in their autumn opener last time out, England will go looking to bounce back to winning ways and lay down a marker against the Brave Blossoms, the hosts of next year’s World Cup.

Just once before have these two teams met in Test rugby, Mike Harrison scoring a hat-trick of tries as England humbled Japan 60-7 in Sydney in the opening match of the inaugural World Cup in 1987.

But like the 28-time Six Nations winners, the Brave Blossoms have come a long way since then and now ranked 11th in the World, Jamie Jospeh’s side travel to Twickenham looking to throw a spanner in the works.

Against the side he coached shortly before taking the England job in 2015, Eddie Jones hands a debut to 21-year-old winger Joe Cokanasiga, making sweeping changes to the team that lost 16-15 to the All Blacks.

Zach Mercer, a teammate of Cokanasiga’s at Bath Rugby, also makes his first England start at No. 8, while fly-half George Ford is in line to earn his 50th cap.

Japan, meanwhile, hand a first start to flanker Masakatsu Nishikawa while winger Akihito Yamada also comes in.

England v Japan, Twickenham Stadium, London, 3pm, Saturday, November 17

What they said

England head coach Eddie Jones said: “This weekend is a good opportunity for us to test the depth of the squad. “A number of players have changed their roles going from finishers to starters and starters to finishers, so that is the essential change to the squad.

“It is exciting to be able to give starting opportunities to Zach Mercer and Joe Cokanasiga, and young Ted Hill on the bench.

“Japan is an important game for us as we want to get back to winning ways. We have also tested ourselves in having a shorter preparation.

“We are expecting plenty of energy, aggression and fast ball-movement. They will be full of surprises, quick taps, lineouts and plays. They are going to have a bag of magic.”

Japan head coach Jamie Joseph said: “The guys are very aware of what is coming.

“They all watched (England’s) Test against New Zealand. We think this is going to be a different game.

“The fact England are targeting us physically is no secret.

“It hasn’t changed our approach but we have to take that from them and throw something back.

“Some of our players are smaller, so we have to play our game differently because we have smaller men. We have an approach where we hope we can keep the game quick because sometimes, size doesn’t work for you.”

Key battle – Chris Ashton v Akihito Yamada

Chris Ashton wasted little time in making his presence felt as he made his first England Test start for four years against New Zealand last weekend.

The 31-year-old winger, back in English rugby with Sale Sharks after a spell at Toulon, took just two minutes to crash over the line against the world’s number one side and will be keen to continue to make up for most lost time against the Brave Blossoms.

Ashton will find himself lining up opposite Akihito Yamada, one of the few survivors of Japan’s famous 2015 Rugby World Cup triumph over South Africa.

Yamada, 33, is an experienced campaigner, who is the all-time top-scorer of Japanese Super Rugby franchise the Sunwolves.

Key stats

England: 15. Elliot Daly, 14. Joe Cokanasiga, 13. Jack Nowell, 12. Alex Lozowski, 11. Chris Ashton, 10. George Ford (C), 9. Danny Care, 1. Alec Hepburn, 2. Jamie George, 3. Harry Williams, 4. Charlie Ewels, 5. Maro Itoje, 6. Courtney Lawes, 7. Mark Wilson, 8. Zach Mercer Replacements: 16. Dylan Hartley, 17. Ben Moon, 18. Kyle Sinckler, 19. Ted Hill, 20. Sam Underhill, 21. Richard Wigglesworth, 22. Owen Farrell, 23. Henry Slade   Japan: 15. Will Tupou, 14. Akihito Yamada, 13. Timothy Lafaele, 12. Ryoto Nakamura, 11. Kenki Fukuoka, 10. Yu Tamura, 9. Fumiaki Tanaka, 1. Keita Inagaki, 2. Atsushi Sakate, 3. Jiwon Koo, 4. Wimpie van der Walt, 5. Uwe Helu, 6. Michael Leitch (C), 7. Masakatsu Nishikawa, 8. Kazuki Himeno Replacements: 16 Yusuke Niwai, 17 Koki Yamamoto, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Samuela Anise, 20 Hendrik Tui, 21 Shunsuke Nunomaki, 22 Yutaka Nagare, 23 Rikiya Matsuda