England are primed to face a Japan side determined to prove it belongs at the global game’s top table when the nations clash at Twickenham on Saturday.
It is only the second time the rivals have met in a Test match, 31 years after they collided at the 1987 World Cup when the Brave Blossoms were crushed 60-7 in Sydney.
The most recent instalment of the tournament was far more successful, however, as an Eddie Jones-led Japan sent South Africa crashing to the greatest upset in rugby history at England 2015.
England assistant coach Neal Hatley believes they enter the penultimate Quilter International intent on demonstrating they are a growing force.
“They’ll be ready to play unbelievably hard to prove a point to World Rugby – and that is that they’re ready to compete in tier one,” Hatley said.
“They’ve put in some really good performances and this is the next step in their journey, so we’re expecting a tough game.
“We’re expecting lots of endeavour and effort from them. Eddie said in the week they’ve improved massively and believes that since the World Cup they have got better again.”
Jones has used the match as a dress rehearsal for Japan 2019 when a four-day turnaround between the group games against Tonga and the United States must be accommodated, before the heavyweight collisions with Argentina and France begin.
‘Sushi night’ was held at the squad’s Surrey training base on Tuesday night as part of the week’s theme, while on the pitch 11 changes have been made to the team which fell to a controversial 16-15 defeat to New Zealand.
It is hoped the reserve line-up will overrun Japan, enabling the likes of Owen Farrell, Dylan Hartley and Ben Youngs to take a back seat, but Jones refuses to take victory for granted.
“Previously Japanese sides were happy to get beaten – they were the Brave Blossoms – but this new generation believe they can win and that makes them a much stronger side,” Jones said.
“They’re extremely well coached by Jamie and Tony Brown, they’ve got a good balance between indigenous Japanese and non-indigenous Japanese and they’ve got some power where they need to have power.”
Jones is half-Japanese and coached the side for four years until 2015, but his allegiance is clear.
“The emotional connection doesn’t disappear but I’ve never, by nationality, called myself Japanese because I was brought up as an Australian,” he said.
“Japan was part of our family, and obviously marrying a Japanese, having a dog that only speaks Japanese, it’s a big part of the family.
“But this is a serious Test match and you don’t allow those things to cloud your thoughts.”