Rugby-Fullback Lemeki to make rare start for Japan against Samoa

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Rugby World Cup 2023 - Pool D - England v Japan - Allianz Riviera, Nice, France - September 17, 2023 Japan's Lomano Lemeki in action REUTERS/Stephanie Lecocq/File Photo

(Reuters) -Lomano Lemeki will make a first start for Japan in almost two years as one of two changes to their side for the Rugby World Cup Pool D fixture against Samoa in Toulouse on Thursday, a fixture both need to win in their bid for a quarter-final place.

Lemeki comes in at fullback for Semisi Masirewa, who was forced off early in the 34-12 loss to England in their previous game.

"Lemeki played well when we came into a difficult game for a player who hasn't played that level of rugby for quite some time," Japan coach Jamie Joseph said.

"I thought he did a really good job because of the situation he was put in to. We have a lot of confidence he can do that again."

Joseph has made a second backline switch as Dylan Riley takes over from Tomoki Osada at outside centre, but the remainder of the team is unchanged.

Replacement flyhalf Seungsin Lee will make his World Cup debut if he comes off the bench and will hope to repeat the 17 points he scored against Samoa in Japan's 24-22 defeat in July.

"We have opted not to have a specialist 10 on our bench for different reasons, but we think this game is a match built for Seungsin. He has played very well for us in the past," Joseph said.

"Like any young 10s, one bad game doesn't make him a bad player, they just have to get the opportunity to put it right and he has shown a lot of growth the last few weeks."

Wings Jone Naikabula and Kotaro Matsushima make up the back three with Lemeki, while Riley will partner Ryoto Nakamura in the midfield.

Flyhalf Rikiya Matsuda has a 100% success rate off the kicking tee in the World Cup and has scrumhalf Yutaka Nagare alongside him.

Hooker Shota Horie packs down with props Keita Inagaki and Jiwon Gu, Jack Cornelsen and Amato Fakatava are the lock pairing, and flankers Michael Leitch and Pieter Labuschagne are alongside number eight and captain Kazuki Himeno.

"We felt we created pressure on England but we just weren't good enough to put them away," Joseph said. "We want to make sure that we get in a good position against Samoa but (this time) be good enough to get a result."

Japan team: 1-Keita Inagaki, 2-Shota Horie, 3-Jiwon Gu, 4-Jack Cornelsen, 5-Amato Fakatava, 6-Michael Leitch, 7-Pieter Labuschagne, 8-Kazuki Himeno (capt.), 9-Yutaka Nagare, 10-Rikiya Matsuda, 11-Jone Naikabula, 12-Ryoto Nakamura, 13-Dylan Riley, 14-Kotaro Matsushima, 15-Lomano Lemeki

Replacements: 16-Atsushi Sakate, 17-Craig Millar, 18-Asaeli Ai Valu, 19-Warner Dearns, 20-Kanji Shimokawa, 21-Naoto Saito, 22-Seungsin Lee, 23-Tomoki Osada.

(Reporting by Nick SaidEditing by Toby Davis)

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