Japan coach Jamie Joseph named his 31-man squad for Rugby World Cup 2019 on Thursday, 22 days before the Brave Blossoms open the tournament against Russia in Tokyo. Michael Leitch captains a side that features 21 players making their first appearance at a Rugby World Cup, including uncapped hooker Takuya Kitade.
Leitch, Shota Horie and Fumiaki Tanaka will be taking part in their third straight tournament, while Luke Thompson will join an elite group of players to have featured in four World Cups.
“Of all the teams I have coached I have always tried to create a group that will do anything to achieve their goal and I can confidently say this group are aligned and ready to go,” said Joseph.
The squad is based on the group that recently beat Fiji, Tonga and the United States to win the Pacific Nations Cup.
But the return to fitness of props Isileli Nakajima and Koo Ji Won sees them included along with Kitade as Joseph opts for an 18:13 split between forwards and backs.
The back row is particularly competitive with Leitch joined by Amanaki Lelei Mafi, Hendrik Tui, Kazuki Himeno, Yoshitaka Tokunaga and Pieter “Lappies” Labuschagne. Among the backs, Joseph has chosen a number of players who can play a number of positions, such as flyhalf/centre Rikiya Matsuda, centre/fullback Will Tupou and wing/fullback Kotaro Matsushima.
He has also opted for three scrumhalves in Tanaka, Kaito Shigeno and Yutaka Nagare, Other players to feature in past World Cups include Keita Inagaki, Kenki Fukuoka and Yu Tamura. Two Rio Olympians have been included in Tokunaga and Lomano Lava Lemeki.
“The team has set a goal of making the top eight for the first time in the history of Japanese rugby,” Joseph said. “The staff and players will give 150 percent. “We are under no illusions how difficult that is but it’s definitely our goal.”
Japan is hosting the World Cup for the first time and will play the opening game against Russia on September 20 in Tokyo.
Joseph retained 28 of the players from the squad that won the recent Pacific Nations Cup.
The three additions are uncapped hooker Takuya Kitade, lock Isileli Nakajima and prop Koo Ji-won.
Joseph promised the hosts would “give 150 percent” to reach the World Cup final.
The “Brave Blossoms” will be at full strength when they face Russia after talismanic captain Michael Leitch returned from injury at the Pacific Nations Cup.
“The team has set a goal of making the top eight for the first time in the history of Japanese rugby,” Joseph said.
“The staff and players will give 150 percent — whether that’s enough only time will tell.
“Our game is based around speed, skill and structure,” added the former All Blacks loose forward.
“But the key difference this year is we are fit enough now to play that game.
“We’re training at a level of intensity that’s 25 percent higher than our matches — I think that’s our key weapon.”
Currently ranked ninth in the world after capturing their third Pacific Nations title, the Japanese also take on Ireland, Scotland and Samoa in Pool A as they target a place in the knockout stage for the first time.
Brave Blossoms SQUAD
- Michael Leitch (c)
- Keita Inagaki
- Yusuke Kizu
- Koo Ji-won
- Isileli Nakajima
- Asaeli Ai Valu
- Takuya Kitade
- Atsushi Sakata
- Shota Horie
- Luke Thompson
- Wimpie van der Walt
- Uwe Helu
- James Moore
- Hendrik Tui
- Yoshitaka Tokunaga
- Pieter Labuschagne
- Kazuki Himeno
- Amanaki Mafi
- Kaito Shigeno
- Fumiaki Tanaka
- Yutaka Nagare
- Yu Tamura
- Rikiya Matsuda
- Kenki Fukuoka
- Ataata Moeakiola
- Lomano Lemeki
- William Tupou
- Ryoto Nakamura
- Timothy Lafaele
- Kotaro Matsushima
- Ryohei Yamanaka
— Japan Rugby (@JRFURugby) August 30, 2019