The result appear such a foregone conclusion that Saturday’s opening Test of the November season, between Japan and New Zealand, is more about individuals.
On the one side there is Rugby League convert Craig Wing, relishing his first ever encounter with the All Blacks, while the flipside sees Kiwi flyhalf Dan Carter focused on re-establishing himself as his country’s first-choice at No.10. Carter – one of the game’s all-time greats – will find himself in the unusual position of fighting for his jersey when the world champion All Blacks face Japan on Saturday.
The 31-year-old, who has played 97 times for his country, will be looking to put a disastrous run of injuries behind him on his latest comeback in Tokyo. “The toughest thing is not being able to show what you can do,” Carter said. “It does motivate you to see other guys in the No.10 jersey. It’s tough to accept.” Carter’s latest setback came in September’s 29-15 win over South Africa when he was clattered by Springboks hooker Bismarck du Plessis, damaging his shoulder. “The shoulder’s coming along well,” Carter said. “I’ve started contact in the last couple of weeks and I’m getting my strength back.” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen will field an experimental side against Japan, making 14 changes from the team that beat Australia 41-33 in their last outing, although they will still be expected to win by a large margin.
But for Carter, widely regarded as the best flyhalf to play the game, the Tokyo Test – New Zealand’s first against the Brave Blossoms on Japanese soil – carries extra significance. After a decade of dominating the No.10 shirt for New Zealand, the world’s leading points scorer knows he faces a fight to become an automatic choice again with Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett and Tom Taylor all impressing in his absence. “I’m proud how Aaron and Beauden have made the most of their chances,” said Carter. “But all I can do is worry about what I’m doing.” Carter’s form is set to come under the microscope with the
All Blacks flying to Europe to complete a four-match tour against France, England and Ireland after playing Japan. “There’s been so much said about Dan that’s been positive and then suddenly (people say) we can live without him,” said Hansen. “That takes a bit of adjusting to, but Dan’s just excited about getting back on the track after a horrific run of luck.” Captain Richie McCaw will start at loose forward, having also been troubled by injury this year, as New Zealand look ahead to their World Cup defence in 2015 by trying different combinations against Japan. Saturday’s match will be the first between the two teams outside of the World Cup after the All Blacks pulverised Japan 83-7 two years ago and 145-17 in 1995.
Carter will be hoping to come through the game unscathed after being described by Hansen as a “red-flag” player due to his injury problems. “It’s always frustrating to have to watch from the sideline,” said Carter, set to take a six-month sabbatical next year to fix his various niggles and give himself the best chance to make his fourth World Cup. “But the fact is the guys who’ve come in have been playing very well and that motivates me to keep improving.” In stark contrast to Carter’s situation is Wing, who has played for the Kangaroos and tackled State of Origin with New South Wales.
However, for him Japan’s encounter with New Zealand as a “once in a lifetime opportunity”. Wing, 33, who played in the NRL with South Sydney and the Sydney Roosters between 1998 and 2009, moved to Japan three years ago to swap codes and play rugby. He qualified to play for Japan on the three-year residency rule late last year and scored a try in the Brave Blossoms’ 23-8 win over Wales in June. “When I left Australia I thought any hope of representative football or anything like that was well and truly done,” he said after being named at inside centre for the Test. “But when Eddie [Jones] presented me with a chance at the end of last year to play for Japan I was so excited and pretty much said yes straight away. “But I had no idea that one day I would come up against the best team in the world here in Japan. For me it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.” In a 19-Test Kangaroos career Wing said he could remember losing just once to the New Zealand Rugby League side. “But they are always big and they are always physical.
The haka at the start of the game is a really good privilege to be in front of,” he said. Wing can expect more of the same physicality from the All Blacks, even though they are without many of their regular first-choice starters, with the exception of McCaw and Carter. But Wing is adamant he and his Japanese teammates will meet the challenge head on. “They are the best team in the world for a reason. But our focus is not just to be a training run for them,” he said. “It’s not just to stand back and watch them play rugby. We want to play some rugby and have some fun too.”
2011: New Zealand won 83-7, Hamilton (World Cup pool match) 1995: New Zealand won 145-17, Bloemfontein (World Cup pool match) Prediction: There is no doubt who will win, it is simply a matter of the margin. It would be a surprise if New Zealand’s winning margin is smaller than 50 points.
Japan: 15 Ayumu Goromaru, 14 Toshiaki Hirose, 13 Male Sau, 12 Craig Wing, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Harumichi Tatekawa, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Ryu Koliniasi Holani, 7 Michael Broadhurst, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Hitoshi Ono, 4 Shoji Ito, 3 Kensuke Hatakeyama, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Masataka Mikami. Replacements: 16: Yusuke Aoki, 17 Yusuke Nagae, 18 Hiroshi Yamashita, 19 Luke Thompson, 20 Takashi Kikutani, 21 Kosei Ono, 22 Yu Tamura, 23 Yoshikazu Fujita.
New Zealand: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Charles Piutau, 13 Ben Smith, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Frank Halai, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Richie McCaw (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett. Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Brodie Retallick, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Tom Taylor, 23 Ryan Crotty.
Date: Saturday, November 2
Venue: Prince Chichibu Memorial Ground, Tokyo
Kick-off: 14.00 (18.00 NZ time; 05.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Mostly cloudy, with a 10 percent chance of rain. High of 21°C and a low of 15°C
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa) Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Andrew Lees (Australia) TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)