TOKYO (Reuters) - New Zealand have made wholesale changes for their clash against Japan on Saturday, opting for an experimental lineup against a Jamie Joseph-coached Brave Blossoms side seeking to avoid another mauling at the hands of the All Blacks
Coach Steve Hansen has named a completely changed side from the one that romped to a comprehensive victory over Australia last week, as he looks to give opportunities to fringe players hoping to break into the team for next year’s Rugby World Cup.
Debutantes Matt Proctor and Dalton Papalli, and more established names such as Nehe Milner-Skudder and Waisake Naholo, will be desperate to impress after the primary squad travelled to London early to prepare for tests in Europe.
Such is the depth of quality at Hansen’s disposal, that the back three of Milner-Skudder, Naholo and Jordie Barrett have already amassed 155 test points between them.
Hansen said ‘clarity’ has been a key word in the New Zealand camp this week as the new selections looked to bed in quickly.
“It is important to get clarity over what your role is,” Hansen said on Thursday. “The message we tell our coaches is not to over-complicate things or over-coach them.
“The message at the end of the week is to trust their instincts. The reason you have been picked to be an All Black in the first place is because you are a good rugby player.”
Otago Highlanders number eight Luke Whitelock, whose brothers Sam and George have also played for the All Blacks, will skipper the side for the first time.
“Well he is a Whitelock for a start,” Hansen said when asked about the 27-year-old’s qualities. “They are natural leaders and they have got a good understanding of the game.
“So this is just an extension of that and he is comfortable making decisions, he is comfortable in leading men. It is just a natural progression for him.”
Japan have faced the All Blacks on three occasions, going down by an average of 84 points across the matches. The most recent meeting in 2013 saw New Zealand romp to a 54-6 win at the Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo.
Saturday’s match is also in the capital, at Ajinomoto Stadium, which will host to the opening match of the 2019 World Cup when Japan take on Russia on Sept. 20.
But looking to the immediate future, New Zealander Joseph will be hoping his players can at least be competitive against the world champions in front of a home crowd.
Japan lost to a World XV team 31-28 in Osaka last week but Joseph was buoyed by the fighting qualities his side displayed in a second half in which they scored 21 unanswered points to almost complete a remarkable comeback.
Joseph will field a team with many links to their opponents on Saturday, with captain Michael Leitch one of four starters born in New Zealand.
Following the match, both teams will fly to Europe for further tests as they continue preparations for the World Cup.
New Zealand will play England, Ireland and Italy, while Japan will also take on the English, and former head coach Eddie Jones, at Twickenham before a taster of their World Cup opener against Russia in Gloucester.
Reporting by Jack Tarrant