Uncapped SA-born duo in Japan squad for B&I Lions clash
SQUAD ANNOUNCEMENT: Japan boss Jamie Joseph on Monday named 19 of Japan’s World Cup heroes in his first squad since their historic 2019 exploits for “huge” matches against the British and Irish Lions and Ireland.
Japan have not played since losing to South Africa in the quarterfinals on home soil more than a year and a half ago, but will face the Lions in Edinburgh on June 26 before taking on Ireland in Dublin on July 3.
Joseph warned that limited preparation time means he will have to “keep things very simple” when the squad meet for a training camp this week ahead of the blockbuster clashes.
“Both Test matches are huge – if you thought about Japan embarking on a mission to play the British Lions and Ireland a couple of years ago, it would be untenable,” he told reporters.
“It’s a new landscape for us as a team, and we’ll just keep things very simple but at an intensity that we think we’re going to get overseas, which is very high, very physical and very fast.”
Joseph’s 36-man squad contains 19 of the players who featured in Japan’s run to the World Cup quarterfinals two years ago, including captain Michael Leitch.
Uncapped SA-born duo 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 Pieter ‘Lappies’ Labuschagne has eight Test caps to his name.
Loose forward Kazuki Himeno, who played this season for the Highlanders in Super Rugby Aotearoa, and Clermont wing Kotaro Matsushima, who was born in Pretoria, were both named and will join the squad when it arrives in Europe.
“We need players that are experienced in playing Test matches,” said Joseph.
“Where we felt that those players were in good form or had the necessary experience with minimal time to prepare, we selected those guys.”
Japan will warm-up for the Lions game with a match against the Sunwolves on June 12 in Shizuoka, the site of their historic World Cup win over Ireland.
They will return to Murrayfield in November to face Scotland, who they also beat en route to the World Cup last eight.
“This tour is really just the starting point for us to reconnect and see how it’s going – how the mix is going to end up by the time we get to the World Cup,” said Joseph.
Japan squad (to play British and Irish Lions in Edinburgh on June 26 and Ireland in Dublin on July 3):
Forwards: Keita Inagaki, Asaeli Ai Valu, Shinnosuke Kakinaga, Jiwon Koo, Craig Millar, Yukio Morikawa, Atsushi Sakate, Shunta Nakamura, Kosuke Horikoshi, Mark Abbott, Wimpie van der Walt, Uwe Helu, James Moore, Naoki Ozawa, Ben Gunter, Jack Cornelsen, Pieter Labuschagne, Michael Leitch, Tevita Tatafu, Amanaki Lelei Mafi, Kazuki Himeno.
Backs: Koki Arai, Naoto Saito, Kaito Shigeno, Yu Tamura, Rikiya Matsuda, Shota Emi, Siosaia Fifita, Semisi Masirewa, Kotaro Matsushima, Lomano Lava Lemeki, Shane Gates, Ryoto Nakamura, Timothy Lafaele, Gerhard van den Heever, Ryohei Yamanaka.
📢 Introducing the Japan National Men’s Squad for 2021 🌸
Captain: Michael Leitch 🇯🇵
Capped: 26 players
RWC2019: 19 players
— Japan Rugby (@JRFURugby) May 24, 2021