Kirwan warns of 'messy' start from his men
Japan will be 'messy', according to head coach John Kirwan as the Asian juggernauts take the first step on their World Cup campaign against Hong Kong in the HSBC Asian Five Nations Top Five competition tomorrow.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Japan played their last international, defeating Russia 74-3 in Tokyo in November. The world has changed terribly back home following last month's earthquake and tsunami.
But Kirwan hopes things haven't changed too drastically within his 40-strong World Cup squad - 30 of whom are in Hong Kong - as the Japanese public look for positive news.
'Preparation wise, we are not, probably, as well ahead of things as we were at this stage last year,' said Kirwan, taking a break from yesterday's HSBC ARFU Rugby Coaching Tour at Hong Kong Football Club, the venue for tomorrow's test.
'Last year was a World Cup qualifying year and it was about getting to the World Cup. This time it's about the World Cup and we are still in the early phase as far as fitness is concerned,' said Kirwan.
'The guys probably won't be in their best form [tomorrow] physically and we will be messy organisationally. We know Hong Kong are always tough. They have a good side which is prepared well. They had a good win last week away, so we know we are in for a hard game,' Kirwan added.
The last time Hong Kong hosted Japan, in 2009, the team held their formidable opponents to 26-6 at half-time before Japan added 33 points after the break. Kirwan still remembers that first half.
'Hong Kong gave us a good shake-up here two years ago so we are ready for a big game,' Kirwan said. 'This is our first game of the season. Last year we played Hong Kong at the tail-end so we were five weeks into our organisation. The fact that we are traditionally slow starters could also have an impact.'
Japan will be led by flanker Takashi Kikutani and will have a number of faces familiar to local fans in the starting line-up including open-side flanker Michael Leitch, who has starred at the Hong Kong Sevens, as well as flyhalf Shaun Webb and inside centre Ryan Nicholas. Kikutani and Leitch were among the players who joined a few Hong Kong counterparts at the coaching clinic run by former Scotland coach Frank Hadden.
'It is good for the players to be involved in these sorts of activities and to be able to share and give back something for the children,' Kirwan said.
Half-a-dozen other players took the opportunity to go and catch a movie - Thor. They obviously want to hammer Hong Kong into submission.