Japan begins road to RWC 2015
Japan Rugby Football Union, who will host Rugby World Cup 2019 in six and half years time, will start an exciting international programme this weekend in their bid to be successful at RWC 2015 in England, which is a must for the further success of RWC 2019.
Japan coach Eddie Jones named a 35-man squad for his team's opening game in this year's HSBC Asian Five Nations, but stressed that the squad is likely to change as the long international season progresses.
Jones' team will play 10 Test matches in nine weeks as it looks to defend its A5N title, hosts the Six Nations champions Wales in a two-match series and takes part in an expanded Pacific Nations Cup.
"I want to win all of them, that's the target," Jones said when asked what he hopes to get out of the season. "The reality says we won't but I hope we are in a position to win them all. I don't want us watching the opposition play."
The opening game of the Asian tournament sees the five-time champions take on the Philippines in Fukuoka on April 20, with the Brave Blossoms having won all 20 of their previous games in the competition, picking up a bonus point in every game.
The Volcanoes may be the new boys in the league - having won promotion last year - but Jones is not taking them lightly and he has picked a strong squad.
"We haven't picked the three guys playing Super Rugby," he said referring to Fumiaki Tanaka, Shota Horie and Michael Leitch. "And a couple of the older guys - Luke Thompson and Craig Wing - haven't joined us yet. It's a managing issue. We play 10 Tests in nine weeks so we have to make sure they are ready when we bring them in for the bigger games."
Hirotoki Onozawa and Hitoshi Ono, however, are named in the squad. The veteran pair have won 76 and 63 caps, respectively, with Onozawa needing just three caps to draw level with Yukio Motoki as Japan's most capped player.
"They are the elder statesman and crucial to the squad," Jones explained. "They have a huge influence both and on and off the field. How long they can carry on playing for no one knows."
In stark contrast three university students - Keisuke Uchida, Ryota Nakamura and Kenki Fukuoka - are also named in the squad.
While Uchida has already won two caps, Nakamura and Fukuoka are two of the eight uncapped players in the squad.
"Nakamura was easily the most outstanding player in university rugby," Jones said when he named his initial expanded squad in February. "He has the ability to play 10 and 12 and I will be very interested in watching his progress."
Fukuoka earned his call-up on the back of some good performances for Junior Japan in their recent games in the IRB Pacific Rugby Cup.
"He has raw speed and the ability to beat men one-on-one," Jones said. "He has the ability to score tries in Test matches so is worth the effort."
The other new caps in the squad are the front-row pair of Masataka Mikami and Takuma Asahara, the back-row duo of Ryuta Yasui and Kojiro Yoshida, and backs Male Sau and Akihito Yamada.
Jones has also handed recalls to Kosuke Endo, Toshizumi Kitagawa and Justin Ives. The three were all part of Japan's squad at Rugby World Cup 2011, but have yet to play under Jones.
"They have all worked hard to improve their games and are in a position to contribute to the squad. They have all got first-class attitudes," Jones commented.
Jones will be assisted by former Filo Tiatia in the build-up to the opening two games in the A5N after it was announced the former All Black and current Toyota Verblitz head coach would work with the squad as a spot coach from April 17-25.
Following the match against the Philippines, Japan travels to Hong Kong for a game on April 27 before taking on South Korea in Tokyo on May 4 and the United Arab Emirates in Dubai on May 10.