Absence of Fukuoka cold comfort for Hong Kong
Japan have no shortage of talent to carry the team while their star wing is out of action
The absence of Japan's new wing sensation, Kenki Fukuoka, is unlikely to stop the Asian juggernauts from putting Hong Kong to the sword in the Asian Five Nations Top Five competition tomorrow.
Fukuoka, 20, thrilled home fans last Saturday when he scored with his first two touches of the ball after coming on as a second-half substitute against the Philippines. His brace was just a small part of the 18-try, 121-0 romp over the newly promoted side, but he is sidelined with a hamstring injury.
It is now Hong Kong's turn to face the onslaught with Japanese coach Eddie Jones making three changes and one positional switch from the opening game. Jones believes Hong Kong are the only side in the five-team tournament who can push Japan.
"Hong Kong are a well-organised side and I am hoping we can be really physical," Jones said. "Of course we want to win the tournament, but we have some big games coming up and are preparing for them."
Japan have outgrown the Asian Five Nations, a tournament where they remain unbeaten for the past five seasons. The bigger challenges this season are to win the Pacific Nations Cup against the likes of Samoa and Fiji, as well as two tests against Wales and single tests against Canada and the US. The final objective is to lift Japan's IRB world rankings from 15th to the top 10.
With an eye on that and building up his player base looking ahead to the 2015 World Cup, Jones is using the A5N to bring on young blood.
Sadly, Hong Kong fans will not see speed merchant Fukuoka and his place on the bench will be taken by another youngster, Yoshikazu Fujita. The 19-year-old scored six tries on his test debut last year against the UAE (106-3) before suffering a serious knee injury that forced him to miss the 2012-13 domestic season.
The other changes will see Takeshi Kizu named at hooker ahead of Hiroki Yuhara, who drops out of the 23-man squad. Jones said Kizu's presence would give Japan a more physical presence in the rucks.
Hendrik Tui is promoted from the bench to the back row in a role reversal with Ryu Koliniasi Holani - a move that also sees Takashi Kikutani shift from flanker to No8. Yuta Imamura comes in on the wing for the injured Hirotoki Onozawa.
"We played really well last week and it showed how hard the players have been working," Jones said. "We looked much better than we did in our opener last year and in the second half moved the ball really well."