England v Japan preview: Red Rose to ease past Brave Blossoms in Nice

England hooker Jamie George and Japan hooker Shota Horie. Credit: Alamy
England hooker Jamie George and Japan hooker Shota Horie. Credit: Alamy

After all the recent doom and gloom surrounding England, the fog has lifted after that spirited win over Argentina, with Japan their next World Cup assignment.

Many had predicted a Los Pumas victory last weekend, but even with 14 players the Red Rose dug in, as a George Ford masterclass guided them to a 27-10 success.

The aftermath has seen staff such as head of strength and conditioning Aled Walters reveal that their poor warm-up form was part of an underlying fitness plan. England were apparently playing tired against Wales, Ireland and Fiji in order to reap the benefits of fresher legs when this tournament kicked off in France.

If that works to their advantage fitness and performance wise it could be a masterstroke as they look to navigate through what has been viewed as a much simpler passage to the knockout stages. But how much we can read into the victory over Los Pumas remains to be seen as Argentina were hugely disappointing in Marseille.

Their opponents on Sunday will be a Japan side that has dipped somewhat in quality from their 2019 vintage. Poor results and showings in recent years mean this should be a comfortable victory for England, who will no doubt be desperate to get through an international game with a full compliment of players on the field.

England will also want to find any kind of try-scoring touch as they have been few and far between in recent times. Jonny May’s crossing against Fiji last month was incredibly the Red Rose’s first try from a back in 261 minutes, so recapturing a lethal edge in the opposition red zone will also be a box to tick in Nice.

Where the game will be won

England were dominant in their previous outing against the Brave Blossoms, running out 52-13 winners at Twickenham last year as their set-piece and cohesiveness gave Japan a torrid time. England should dominate both scrum and lineout and if they vary their play with width and smart kicking options, it should be a simple win.

Last time they met

What they said

England wing Elliot Daly is eyeing an improvement in his side’s attacking game on Sunday, saying he’s confident they are close to clicking and the tries will come.

“We know how good our attack can be, so hopefully in the next few games we will be able to show that,” the versatile back said.

“A lot of people wrote us off against Argentina so for us to come out and perform like that and get that scoreline was pretty impressive.

“If we can do the same this weekend, perform how we want to perform and put our game on Japan, let’s see where that takes us.

“We’re not saying we’re going to chuck the ball around, but we’re going to put ourselves in positions in attack to take the opportunities we create.

“There’s a lot more to come from us and I’m very excited about how we’re approaching it.”

Meanwhile, Japan head coach Jamie Joseph is under no illusions of the pressure England could apply through their kicking game and knows they must be alive to the threat.

“We are expecting a lot of pressure, it is a big part of their game [kicking],” he said.

“[Our players] have got to be good enough to catch those balls under extreme pressure. It’s going to be one of the big parts of the game that we have got to improve on. We know that and we have done a lot of training on it all week.”

Players to watch

The absence of Tom Curry due to suspension hands Lewis Ludlam a chance to impress in the number eight jersey, with Ben Earl shifting to openside flanker. Ludlam has never let England down and expect him to be in the thick of the action throughout on Sunday, as he looks to nail down a jersey for future matches.

There will also be plenty of focus on last week’s hero George Ford, who could make himself undroppable with another shift like the one against Argentina.

For Japan the return of captain Kazuki Himeno gives them a much-needed shot in the arm for this difficult challenge as he starts alongside the legendary Michael Leitch and Pieter Labuschagne in the back-row. Himeno’s carrying and leadership could prove decisive if the Brave Blossoms are to cause a major shock.

There’s also the threat out wide of Kotaro Matsushima to keep a close eye on as he is box office, as every rugby fan will know after the 2019 tournament.

Main head-to-head

The battle at hooker is an intriguing one as Jamie George goes up against Japan veteran Shota Horie, who is one of four changes to their starting XV. The 37-year-old Brave Blossoms stalwart adds experience and dynamism to the pack as Japan will look to pounce on any lapse in concentration from the English.

Elsewhere, the full-backs are set to feature prominently as Freddie Steward looks to get much more ball in hand than last week while being solid in the air. He goes up against Semisi Masirewa who was a star for the Sunwolves in their Super Rugby days and rarely lets the Brave Blossoms down.


While Japan name a strong line-up on paper, it’s hard to ignore their recent struggles in terms of performance. England meanwhile will have been buoyed by that victory over Los Pumas and after putting over 50 points on Japan in 2022, it should be a comfortable win but not on that scale. England to win by 20.

Previous results

2022: England 52-13 Japan
2018: England 35-15 Japan
1987: England 60-7 Japan

The teams

England: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Jonny May, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Alex Mitchell, 8 Lewis Ludlam, 7 Ben Earl, 6 Courtney Lawes (c), 5 Ollie Chessum, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Theo Dan, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 George Martin, 20 Billy Vunipola, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Marcus Smith, 23 Ollie Lawrence

Japan: 15 Semisi Masirewa, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Tomoki Osada, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Jone Naikabula, 10 Rikiya Matsuda, 9 Yutaka Nagare, 8 Kazuki Himeno (c), 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Michael Leitch, 5 Amato Fakatava, 4 Jack Cornelsen, 3 Jiwon Gu, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki
Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Warner Dearns, 20 Kanji Shimokawa, 21 Naoto Saito, 22 Dylan Riley, 23 Lomano Lemeki

Date: Sunday, September 17
Venue: Stade de Nice, Nice
Kick-off: 21:00 local (20:00 BST, 19:00 GMT)
Referee: Nika Amashukeli (GRU)
Assistant Referees: Nic Berry (RA), Andrea Piardi (FIR)
TMO: Joy Neville (IRFU)

READ MORE: Rugby World Cup team tracker: All the line-ups for the next blockbuster weekend of action

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