Two more SA players included in Japan squad
SQUAD ANNOUNCEMENT: Two more South African-born players have been included in Japan’s latest squad as they prepare for their June clash against the British and Irish Lions.
On Monday, the Japan Rugby Football Union announced the 52 players and team staff who will make up the Japan Wider Training Squad for the 2021 Test season.
Players have been selected from both the domestic Top League and from overseas clubs, while head coach Jamie Joseph will work with the same coaching team of Tony Brown, Scott Hansen, and Shin Hasegawa, that lead the Brave Blossoms to the knockout stages at the World Cup in 2019.
South Africans Gerhard van den Heever (Kubota Spears) and Shane Gates (NTT Communications Shining Arcs) have both been included in that squad.
Both players have been plying their trade in Japan since 2016. Van den Heever previously played for the Bulls, Stormers, Western Province and Munster before he made his way to Japan.
Gates previously played for the Eastern Province Kings and Southern Kings.
They join a few other SA-born players in the squad, who have already established themselves on the Test stage with Japan.
Wimpie van der Walt has 16 Test caps for the Brave Blossoms, while Lappies Labuschagne has eight Test caps to his name.
There is also star wing Kotaro Matsushima, who was born in Pretoria and he was part of the Sharks’ youth structures. He has 39 caps to his name.
“It’s been a long time coming since our last squad announcement and I am very excited about our upcoming challenge against the British and Irish Lions,” said Joseph. “It will be a very special occasion for the team to play the Lions for the first time ever. Announcing this squad is the first step in our preparation. The 2021 Top League has produced some great team performances and the competition between the teams is a lot closer than past years which is great for the development of the game in Japan.
“Since the World Cup we’ve had players who have retired from international rugby or who have made themselves unavailable for selection for personal reasons. This creates an opportunity for new players to put their best foot forward and show they can play at international level. The squad has a good balance of experience, as well as players with the potential to play international rugby.
“We will need to grow the depth of our team over the next two years and this tour to Scotland is just the starting point. The final rounds of Top League will show us who can play their best rugby under the pressure of knockout rugby. We will name the final squad of 35 players after the final matches in May.”
Announced on May 24, the final squad members will assemble for a team camp in Beppu, Oita, on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu from May 26 to June 8.
As previously announced, the Brave Blossoms will play a warm-up match at ECOPA Stadium in Shizuoka on June 12, with the opponent to be announced in due course.
The Brave Blossoms are then scheduled to fly to Scotland on June 16 to take on the British & Irish Lions at Murrayfield in Edinburgh on June 26.