8 Sep 2011

Japan name strongest team to face France

12:42 pm on 8 September 2011

New Zealand-born lock Luke Thompson is one of just two changes made by Japan coach John Kirwan in a virtual full-strength line-up for their Rugby World Cup opener against France at North Harbour stadium on Saturday.

Thompson comes in for another New Zealander, the injured Justin Ives.

Veteran Hirotoki Onozawa gets the nod on the wing.

Flanker Takashi Kikutani remains captain of the team which claimed their fourth straight Asian Five Nations title in May and lifted a maiden Pacific Nations Cup in July.

Japan lost their final warm-up match last month against Italy.

They're seeking to improve their World Cup record of just one win in six appearances, but they are facing a tough Pool A also including New Zealand, Tonga and Canada.

The run-on team features five non-ethnic Japanese players, continuing Kirwan's policy of using foreign talent to boost the team's fortunes as they prepare to host the World Cup in 2019.

Japan have never won in eight meetings with France, including a 29-51 reverse at the 2003 World Cup in Australia.

Team: Shaun Webb; Kosuke Endo, Koji Taira, Ryan Nicholas, Hirotoki Onozawa; James Arlidge, Fumiaki Tanaka; Ryukoliniasi Holani, Michael Leitch, Takashi Kikutani (captain); Toshizumi Kitagawa, Luke Thompson; Kensuke Hatakeyama, Shota Horie, Hisateru Hirashima. Res: Yusuke Aoki, Nozomu Fujita, Hitoshi Ono, Itaru Taniguchi, Atsushi Hiwasa, Murray Williams, Alisi Tupuailai