JAPAN BOSS Jamie Joseph today 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 quarter-finals on home soil more than a year and a half ago, but will face the Lions in Edinburgh on 26 June before taking on Ireland in Dublin on 3 July.
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.
Joseph’s 36-man squad contains 19 of the players who featured in Japan’s run to the World Cup quarter-finals two years ago, including captain Michael Leitch.
Loose forward Kazuki Himeno, who played this season for the Otago Highlanders in Super Rugby Aotearoa, and Clermont winger Kotaro Matsushima were both named, and will join the squad when it arrives in Europe.
South African-born, former Munster wing Gerhard van den Heever — who now qualifies through the residency rule — has been named in the group after showing excellent form in the Top League for the Kubota Spears this year.
“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 a select side on 12 June in Shizuoka, the site of their historic World Cup win over Ireland.
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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 26 June and Ireland in Dublin on 3 July):
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