Japan rely on World Cup heroes to face Lions
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Japan boss Jamie Joseph placed his faith in his 2019 World Cup heroes Thursday, as he named an experienced team to face the British and Irish Lions in Edinburgh.
Ten of Japan’s starting XV for Saturday’s landmark first match against the Lions also began their World Cup quarter-final defeat on home soil to eventual champions South Africa.
Japan has not played a single Test match since because of the pandemic, and Joseph said he didn’t want to “overcomplicate things” as his players prepare to return at Murrayfield.
“We don’t want our players thinking about the opposition – we know that we’re playing some of the world’s best players in a game of rugby on Saturday, and that challenge is enough to be focused on,” he said during an online conference.
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Wing Siosaia Fifita is the only new cap in Japan’s starting line-up, which includes established stars such as captain Michael Leitch and Clermont winger Kotaro Matsushima.
Former Bath player Amanaki Lelei Mafi starts at No. 8.
There is a place on the bench for marauding loose forward Kazuki Himeno, who joined the squad on Monday, less than two days after playing in the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final in Auckland.
“Obviously he’s had a long flight, but he’s come off the flight in really good spirits. He’s got a real spring in his step,” Joseph said of Himeno, who was named Super Rugby Aotearoa rookie of the year after his debut season with the Highlanders.
The match will be played the day before the Lions depart for South Africa for a tour that culminates with a three-Test series against the Springboks.
Japan is taking on the Lions for the first time in their history, and Joseph said he is relishing the occasion.
“As the coach, I’m just really excited at this opportunity. It’s a bit of a once-in-a-lifetime for a rugby player, because the Lions don’t get together very often,” he said.
“We’re under no doubts how difficult the challenge will be, but we also know that it’s a great opportunity for us.”
Japan: 15 Ryohei Yamanaka, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Siosaia Fifita, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Kaito Shigeno, 8 Amanaki Lelei Mafi, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Michael Leitch (captain), 5 James Moore, 4 Wimpie van der Walt, 3 Jiwon Koo, 2 Atsushi Sakate, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Replacements: 16 Kosuke Horikoshi, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Asaeli Ai Valu, 19 Jack Cornelsen, 20 Kazuki Himeno, 21 Tevita Tatafu, 22 Naoto Saito, 23 Rikiya Matsuda.
Date: Saturday, June 26
Venue: Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 15.00 (14.00 GMT; 23.00 JST)
Referee: Pascal Gaüzère
Assistant referees: Pierre Brousset, Ludovic Cayre
TMO: Eric Gauzins