All Blacks confirm 2018 Japan test prior to Europe trip
TOKYO, May 17 (Reuters) - The world champion All Blacks will face Japan in a test match next year before heading to Europe for their end of season tour in an effort to boost interest ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in the country.
Steve Hansen's side will meet the Brave Blossoms at a yet-to-be-decided venue on Nov. 3, a match that could be followed by a heavyweight clash against England at Twickenham between two sides vying for favouritism at the next World Cup.
Hansen used New Zealand's 2014 northern hemisphere tour to replicate conditions he expected to encounter in the final weeks of the 2015 Rugby World Cup and said the Japan game would help with their preparations for the global showpiece.
"The match against the Brave Blossoms will be an important part of our preparation towards 2019," Hansen said in a statement on Wednesday.
"It'll give our team the chance to experience the unique environment and culture we will return to the following year."
Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) president Tadashi Okamura added that the match was a perfect appetiser for the first World Cup in Asia.
"It is a great pleasure to welcome the All Blacks back to Japan for a match less than one year out from Japan hosting Rugby World Cup 2019," Okamura said.
"Matches don't come much bigger than against the current world champions. In many ways it will be a curtain-raiser to the tournament in 2019."
The two sides have met five times previously, although the first two games in Japan in 1987 were not accorded test status. Their first official test was at the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa where the All Blacks won 145-17.
They also met in the 2011 tournament in New Zealand, where the All Blacks won 83-7, before they recorded a 54-6 victory in Tokyo in 2013.
The Brave Blossoms have improved markedly since then and recorded the biggest upset in World Cup history when they beat two-times champions South Africa 34-32 in their opening match of the 2015 tournament in England.
"It will be a wonderful occasion for Japanese rugby to take on the All Blacks," Japan coach Jamie Joseph, who played for both teams, said. "Our team proved at Rugby World Cup in 2015 that we shouldn't be taken for granted.
"We're confident of putting in a determined performance against the All Blacks." (Writing by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by John O'Brien)