Off the back of four straight wins to finish The Rugby Championship, the Wallabies are out to make some history as they take on Jamie Joseph’s Brave Blossoms.
Not since Robbie Deans’ side in 2008 have the Wallabies won five straight matches outside of World Cup years.
It’s the first time Australia have played Japan since their 63-30 win in 2017.
The Wallabies have been trying to keep their feet on the ground over the past month and Wallabies captain Michael Hooper was at pains on Friday to reinforce the test that awaits them against the world No.10 side.
“It is important to keep growing,” he said. “The wins are going to be a product of us focusing on what we need to do to beat these guys.
“They’re no joke – the Japanese are a solid team that have threats across the board, so we need to be on our game.
“We’re not going to get too far ahead of ourselves and start thinking about getting up north, it’s about tomorrow.
Dave Rennie has picked his strongest available side, with Samu Kerevi (injured) and Marika Koroibete (unavailable).
There are four changes in total from the team that beat Argentina, with Hunter Paisami replacing Kerevi while Tom Wright starts ahead of Jordan Petaia on the wing.
Up front and Rennie has opted for some extra muscle bringing 118kg Rob Leota in to start at blindside flanker, which sees Pete Samu drop back to the bench.
Matt Philip meanwhile switches with Darcy Swain to start alongside Izack Rodda in the second-row.
Connal McInerney is in-line to make his debut off the bench, while Allan Alaalatoa returns after missing the past three matches following the birth of his first child.
Japan will kick off with South African-born flanker Pieter Labuschagne leading the team, having taken over the captaincy from experienced loose forward Michael Leitch, who will come off the bench.
The side has an Australian flavour, with Brisbane-educated bruising forward Ben Gunter handed a debut, while Australia-born lock James Moore will also play, as will flanker Jack Cornelsen, the son of ex-Wallaby Greg.
“It’s a massive challenge for us as a group, particularly because it’s our first game in a while. But it’s something we’re really looking forward to,” said Joseph.
“The Australian team is getting stronger with every match. They’ve always had quality players, they’ve got a quality coaching group, and they’re very well managed.
“We obviously know Dave (Rennie) really well, and know how committed he is to his team,” he added.
JAPAN 15-1: Semisi Masirewa, Lomano Lava Lemeki, Timothy Lafaele, Ryota Nakamura, Siosaia Fifita, Rikiya Matsuda, Yutaka Nagare, Kazuki Himeno, Pieter Labuschagne (c), Ben Gunter, James Moore, Jack Cornelsen, Jiwon Gu, Atsushi Sakate, Keita Inagaki
Reserves: Yusuke Niwai, Craig Millar, Asaeli Ai Valu, Michael Leitch, Tevita Tatafu, Naoto Saito, Yu Tamura, Dylan Riley
WALLABIES 15-1: Reece Hodge, Tom Wright, Len Ikitau, Hunter Paisami, Andrew Kellaway, Quade Cooper, Nic White, Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper (c), Rob Leota, Matt Philip, Izack Rodda, Taniela Tupou, Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper
Reserves: Connal McInerney, Angus Bell, Allan Alaalatoa, Darcy Swain, Pete Samu, Tate McDermott, James O’Connor, Jordan Petaia
Four more Tests will close out the Wallabies’ 2021 international season, and it all kicks off on Saturday when they face Japan in the nation’s southern city of Oita.
Following the match with the Brave Blossoms, the Wallabies head to the UK for Tests against Scotland, England and Wales on consecutive weekends from November 8.
The Showa Denko Dome in Oita, on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu, is a familiar venue for the Wallabies, but not for happy reasons: It was the venue their 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign ended, the team trounced 40 points to 16 at the hands of England.
But alarmingly, the clash this Saturday represents just the sixth time the two countries have met since 1975.
The Brave Blossoms have never beaten Australia.
Back in 1975, the Wallabies won 37-7 at the Sydney Cricket Ground, before backing up with a 50-25 win a fortnight later at Ballymore in Brisbane. But they didn’t meet again until the inaugural World Cup in 1987, with the Wallabies winning 42-23 at Concord Oval in Sydney.
And it would be another 20 years before the next clash, in which the Wallabies enjoyed a massive 91-3 win in Lyon in France during the 2007 World Cup, a month before being bundled out in the quarter-final.
The most recent match was a 63-30 win for Australia at the Yokohama International Stadium, the venue for the 2019 RWC final and semi-finals.
This was the third of four straight wins the Wallabies posted toward the end of the 2017 season, a feat they have only just equalled again in their last four matches.
After beating Argentina 37-20 in the final match of The Rugby Championship in 2017, the Wallabies beat New Zealand 23-18 in Brisbane in the final, standalone Bledisloe Cup Test.
A fortnight later they were in Yokohama, and with fly-half Bernard Foley sick and Quade Cooper not used at all through The Rugby Championship, Michael Cheika handed Reece Hodge his first ever start in the number 10 jersey.
Hodge kicked nine from nine from the kicking tee, and outside centre Tevita Kuridrani scored three tries as the Wallabies ran away with a convincing win.
Since 2017, however, there has been significant change in the Japanese game. They are nothing like the easybeats they used to be, having to qualify for World Cups and then copping horrendous thrashings when they did.
After beating South Africa in the 2015 RWC in England — “The Brighton Miracle” as it became known, prompting a movie of the same name – Japan repeated the feat as the host of the 2019 RWC, beating Ireland and Scotland to qualify top of their pool and progress to the quarter-finals for the first time.