Fri, Sep 07, 2007 - Page 24 News List

Australia roll out the big guns for clash with Japan

AFP , LYON, FRANCE

Australia open their World Cup campaign with a Group B game against Japan in Lyon tomorrow with one eye already focused on the showdown against Wales in Cardiff the following week.

Coach John Connolly knows that a win against Asia's top side is virtually guaranteed, but he he wants his top players in a full-strength side to all stretch their legs.

Back comes winger Lote Tuqiri following a two-match suspension imposed after he missed a medical appointment and a team recovery session in July.

Fullback Chris Latham wins his 74th cap and will start his first international this year.

Latham, who celebrates his 32nd birthday tomorrow, returned for the final Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup Test against New Zealand in July and played the final 35 minutes after coming back from knee reconstruction.

In the front row, Al Baxter has been named at tighthead prop, while Guy Shepherdson will start the match on the bench after a knee injury disrupted his preparations for tomorrow's opener.

Stirling Mortlock will captain Australia for the first time in a World Cup match and will be assisted by two vice captains in 134-Test veteran George Gregan and flanker George Smith.

Connolly said it was important to field his strongest team for the opening match of the tournament.

"We had always planned to play our strongest team for our first two pool matches," Connolly said.

"We want to build towards the Wales match [on Sept. 15] with a strong performance on Saturday and we will get a good opportunity to do that against Japan," he said.

Latham agreed with Connolly saying that the Wallabies needed to concentrate on what they do best if they are to win a third World Cup.

"It's about building momentum, it's about getting the basics right. If we do that, we'll earn the right to build from there," Latham said.

Japan coach John Kirwan in contrast admitted that keeping the points down against the Australians would represent a victory for his team.

The Japanese, who have recorded only one win in five consecutive World Cup appearances -- 52-8 over Zimbabwe in 1991 -- will also play Wales, Fiji and Canada in a tough pool.

"We must concentrate on the Australian game," former All Black legend Kirwan said. "We have a game against the second ranked team in the world and we must face the challenge. A good score on the board will constitute a win."

Kirwan added that he had stressed to his side the importance of playing their own style.

"I think it is important for us as a team to keep the Japanese style of rugby. I believe that if we can withstand that and face the opposition we will have a fantastic World Cup," he said.

"We'd like to keep the ball as much as possible and also to play a fast, quick game. For us, it is very important that we believe in our ability. I believe that the players that we have here can believe in themselves and in the style of game we play, and can be successful," Kirwan said.

"For us, it is an important World Cup. We want to show the world the Japanese style and we want to confirm that Japan deserves to host the 2015 World Cup," he said.

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