Jamie Joseph has made six changes to his Japan team to face Tonga in the Pacific Nations Cup, with former captain Michael Leitch ruled out through suspension.

Tonga, meanwhile, have made seven changes to their team that lost to Fiji in round one of the tournament.
Michael Leitch suspended

Leitch has been handed a three-game suspension for his tackle on So’otala Fa’aso’o. Japan led the match 10-3 at the time of his sending off – in the 30th minute – but went on to lose the Test 24-22.

World Rugby confirmed Leitch’s suspension on Thursday, adding that he could return one week prior if he completes the Coaching Intervention Programme.

“The player accepted that foul play occurred and that the offending warranted a red card,” the statement read.

“The Committee noted that the offence carries a mandatory mid-range sanction (six matches), and having considered the mitigating factors, reduced the sanction by the maximum mitigation of 50 per cent. The final sanction of three matches is to be applied as follows:

Japan v Tonga, 29 July 2023
Japan v Fiji, 05 August 2023
Italy v Japan, 26 August 2023*

Brave Blossoms’ head coach Joseph has rung the changes following the defeat with three alterations to his pack and a further three to his backline.

Up front, Asaeli Valu starts at tighthead prop in place of Ji-won Gu, with Keita Inagaki at loosehead and Atsushi Sakate at hooker.

In the second-row, Uwe Helu replaces James Moore and starts alongside Amato Fakatava. Ben Gunter comes in for the suspended Leitch as Kazuki Himeno switches to number eight, and Jack Cornelsen completes the back-row.

Onto the backs and Yutaka Nagare and Naoto Saito switch roles, with the latter now starting as Seungsin Lee retaining the number 10 jersey.

Tomoki Osada earns his first start for Japan ahead of Shogo Nakano as he links up in the centres with Dylan Riley.

Jone Naikabula switches wings to start on the right this weekend, with Semisi Masirewa on the left and Ryohei Yamanaka at full-back. Kotaro Matsushima is set to feature from the bench.

Tonga make seven changes after Fiji defeat

Looking to bounce back from their defeat to Fiji, Tonga head coach Toutai Kefu has made seven changes to his starting XV.

Tonga confirmed that centre Malakai Fekitoa, lock Sam Lousi, scrumhalf Augustine Pulu and outside back Israel Folau are all unavailable to Kefu for the clash with Japan.

Charles Piutau starts for Tonga at full-back, with Solomone Kata switching wings as he takes the number 11 jumper. Meanwhile, Kyren Taumoefolau replaces Fine Inisi in the starting line-up.

Pita Ahki slots in at inside centre in Fekitoa’s absence and partners Afusipa Taumoepeau in the midfield.

William Havili is at flyhalf, replacing Otumaka Mausia, as scrumhalf Sonatane Takulua captains the side.

Vaea Fifita shifts to the side of the scrum after starting at number eight against Fiji, while Sione Havili Talitui starts on the openside as Lopeti Timani completes the loose trio.

Halaleva Fifita and Steve Mafi are the locks, with Siegfried Fisi’ihooi, Sam Moli and Ben Tameifuna in the front-row.

Japan v Tonga

Japan: 15 Ryohei Yamanaka, 14 Jone Naikabula, 13 Dylan Riley, 12 Tomoki Osada, 11 Semisi Masirewa, 10 Seungsin Lee, 9 Naoto Saito, 8 Kazuki Himeno 7 Ben Gunter, 6 Jack Cornelsen, 5 Uwe Helu, 4 Amato Fakatava, 3 Asaeli Valu, 2 Atsushi Sakate, 1 Keita Inagaki,
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Jiwon Gu, 19 James Moore, 20 Tevita Tatafu, 21 Yutaka Nagare, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23 Kotaro Matsushima

Tonga: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Solomone Kata, 13 Afusipa Taumoepeau, 12 Pita Ahki, 11 Kyren Taumoefolau, 10 William Havili, 9 Sonatane Takulua (C), 8 Lopeti Timani, 7 Sione Havili Talitui, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Steve Mafi, 4 Halaleva Fifita, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Samuela Moli, 1 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi
Replacements: 16 Paula Ngauamo, 17 Feao Fotuaika, 18 David Lolohea, 19 Tanginoa Halaifonua, 20 Solomone Funaki, 21 Manu Paea, 22 Otumaka Mausia, 23 George Moala