England v Japan: the three key battles

As England prepares to face Japan on Sunday, CHRIS FOY examines the three key battles that could define the Riviera showdown

  • Two team stalwarts go toe-to-toe, and Elliot Daly must supress 2019 RWC star 
  • After seeing off Argentina with 14 men, England will look to clinch second win 
  • ENGLAND PREVIEW: England will tackle threat of Japan with care and caution 
  • Latest Rugby World Cup 2023 news, including fixtures, live scores and results

England will play their second World Cup fixture on the French Riviera against feisty underdogs Japan on Sunday evening. 

Steve Borthwick’s side invigorated their tournament hope in their opener against Argentina with a compelling victory over Argentina, despite playing with just 14 men. 

Should England clinch victory in Nice, they’ll look a foregone conclusion for the knockout rounds with only Chile left to swat aside.  

But as Japan have proved at World Cups past, they can be no small prospect on the biggest of stages.   

Here, Mail Sport’s Chris Foy runs the rule over the three key battles to watch out for when the two side’s meet on Sunday evening. 

At 34, Courtney Lawes (pictured centre) is still a talismanic figure for Steve Borthwick’s side

A national hero, Michael Leitch is playing in his fourth World Cup in Brave Blossoms colour


Lawes was outstanding in England’s win over Argentina, stepping up to deliver a huge performance as captain after his team went down to 14 men following Tom Curry’s red card. He again skippers the team against Japan. 

Lawes’s opposite number is another 34-year-old in Leitch who is the warhorse of the Brave Blossoms side. Leitch is a hero in Japan and is at his fourth World Cup. He never takes a backward step but faces a dogged adversary in Lawes. 


Daly has vowed England will find their attacking game against the Japanese and will hope to see plenty of ball on the Cote d’Azur where he starts on the left wing. 

His opposite number is Japanese right wing Matsushima who is preparing for his third World Cup. Matsushima scored the first World Cup hat-trick by a Japan player and was a star as they reached the quarter-finals in 2019. 

Japan coach Jamie Joseph labelled Matsushima a ‘Ferrari’ four years ago. He is a world-class performer who has played in France’s TOP14 with Clermont Auvergne. 

Elliot Daly is adamant that England will find their attacking game in France and will look for plenty of the ball on Sunday

His opposite number Kotaro Matsushima (leaping) has been called a ‘Ferrari’ by his coach

Lewis Ludlam gets the nod to start for England after Tom Curry’s red card, and will face up with Kazuki Himeno (right)


Ludlam comes into Steve Borthwick’s side at No 8 with Curry suspended. Ben Earl switches from the back of the scrum to No 7. 

The selection of Northampton man Ludlam is a surprise given many expected Billy Vunipola to return to the side after his ban. Vunipola is on the bench. 

But Ludlam impressed as a replacement against Argentina, making 11 tackles in just 14 minutes on the field. He is not a No 8 specialist but Himeno is. The Japan captain is back from injury after missing their opening 42-12 win over Chile 

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