All Blacks: Charm now ... but wait until the game starts

By Steve Deane

A young Japanese fan is dressed for the occasion as he meets Richie McCaw yesterday. Photo / Getty Images
A young Japanese fan is dressed for the occasion as he meets Richie McCaw yesterday. Photo / Getty Images

The All Blacks have turned on the charm in Tokyo, with captain Richie McCaw meeting fans before today's test match against Japan.

New Zealand will be using the game as a tune-up for more-rigorous encounters in Europe, but for the "Brave Blossoms" it is a tough test of Japan's rugby development.

McCaw will captain a side with an experimental look about it, but for Japan the sold-out test is a chance to measure their progress towards hosting the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Crowds lined up around the block to see the All Blacks, who are expected to win comfortably.

The two countries have played only two official test matches, neither in Japan. They last met in Hamilton during the 2011 World Cup, when the All Blacks won 83-7. Before that, they met during the 1995 World Cup tournament, when a second-string All Blacks line-up posted the side's biggest victory, a 145-17 thrashing in Bloemfontein.

Kick-off in Tokyo is at 6pm (NZT).

Japan is looking to improve as it prepares to host rugby's showpiece event in 2019.

It has participated in every Rugby World Cup since the tournament began in 1987, but has won only one game, against Zimbabwe in 1991.

Japan recorded its first official test-match win against a Tier One nation when it beat Wales 23-8 in June, but the Welsh side were missing 15 players away with the British and Irish Lions in Australia.

As if playing the world champions tonight isn't difficult enough, Japan go into the match without head coach Eddie Jones, who is out indefinitely after a stroke last month.

- NZ Herald

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