Japanese rugby has again started to rebuild - with an eye on the 1999 World Cup. The first step in that direction will be taken on Saturday when they play Hong Kong in the opening Pacific Rim Championship game at the Aberdeen Stadium. The Japanese Rugby Football Union has made wholesale changes from the squad which won the Asian Rugby Football Tournament in Taiwan last November. No-one has been spared - a new coaching staff has replaced overseas experts Glen Ella and Eddie Jones, and the team contains nine new caps, five of whom will be on display against Hong Kong. The man entrusted with the onerous task of coaching is former World Cup captain Seiji Hirao. He is a symbol of the changes currently sweeping through Japanese rugby at the highest level. At 34, Hirao is young for a coach, but that is one of the main reasons he was handed the job two months ago. 'They want young ideas . . . new ideas. I hope I can provide that,' Hirao said yesterday after taking the 26-strong Japanese squad through a rigorous, 90-minute training run at Happy Valley. Hirao can draw on his playing days for all the experience he needs. He captained Japan's side at the 1991 World Cup and played at the last one in South Africa. 'Japanese rugby is trying to improve. We lost all our three games at the 1995 World Cup and were also beaten by a record score by New Zealand. Then last year we finished last in the Pacific Rim. We are now trying to reconstruct . . . it is a big challenge for us and we hope we can do well,' said Hirao. He will rely on a clutch of new expatriate players - No 8 Rob Gordon, lock Isikele Basiyalo and winger Pat Tuidraki - to provide the platform for a good performance against Hong Kong. Centre Andrew McCormick is the only foreigner to survive from the Asian tournament last year. Gordon, who played three Tests (against Romania, Russia and Australia) for New Zealand in 1990-91, has been in Japan for only 10 months, but the Toshiba company forward is believed to be an integral part of Hirao's plans to lift Japanese rugby to another level. A new-look Hong Kong Under-23 outfit will take on the Asian Barbarians at Happy Valley tonight. Many of the players who were unable to go to Guangzhou last weekend return to the side, who are certain to put on a strong display against the composite team drawn from the second-tier Asian nations and China. SQUAD Hong Kong Under-23: 1-George Di Koon-on (Causeway Bay), 2-Charlie Lee Chi-cheuk (capt - Aberdeen), 3-Garry Lee Kin-on (CWB), 4-Cheung Sze-man, 5-Christian McGregor (Club), 6-Sam Kynaston (Valley), 7-Carl Pollock (Typhoons), 8-James Grant (Kowloon), 9-Roman Law Lok-man (CWB), 10-Tony Woods (Club), 11-Andy Wong On-duk (DeA), 12-Jethro Glover (Valley), 13-Lam Kwong-shun (DeA), 14-Andy Lau Siu-yan, 15-Kevin Rideout (Club).