Japan name wider squad for Pacific Nations Cup and RWC 2019

Japan coach Jamie Joseph names a 42-man squad to prepare for the World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup and Rugby World Cup 2019 on home soil.

Japan head coach Jamie Joseph has named a 42-man squad ahead of the World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup and Rugby World Cup on home soil.

Michael Leitch will again captain the side, and is one of 12 survivors from the team that became the first to win three pool matches at the showpiece tournament and not qualify for the quarter-finals in England four years ago.

Of the 15 players that started the famous 34-32 victory against South Africa in Brighton in 2015 only seven retain a chance of playing in a home Rugby World Cup.

Leitch, who scored Japan’s first try that day, is joined in the extended training group by Kotaro Matsushima, Fumiaki Tanaka, Hendrik Tui, Luke Thompson, Shota Horie and Masataka Mikami. Keita Inagaki, Hiroshi Yamashita, Amanaki Lelei Mafi and Yu Tamura, who came off the bench against the Springboks, are also included.

Should Thompson – the oldest player in the squad at 38 – make Joseph’s final 31-man Japan 2019 squad then he would be in line to appear at a fourth Rugby World Cup.

At the other end of the age spectrum is 23-year-old winger Ataata Moeakiola (pictured), who earned rave reviews for his displays at the World Rugby U20 Championship in Manchester three years ago and earlier this year made his Super Rugby debut for the Chiefs.

"As director of rugby I have many different roles and jobs, but my core focus is to build a team that can win at the World Cup," Joseph said. "And we are now in a really good spot to push forward to the next stage of preparation.”

Adapting under pressure

Japan’s players will convene for three training camps ahead of their World Rugby Pacific Nations Cup 2019 campaign, which gets underway with a meeting with defending champions Fiji at the Kamaishi Recovery Memorial Stadium on 27 July.

Japan then host Tonga on 3 August at the Hanazono Rugby Stadium before travelling to the Fijian capital of Suva to face the USA seven days later.

Following their Pacific Nations Cup commitments the squad will meet up in Hokkaido for a further training camp before the squad is cut to 31 players.

"I'm looking for players who, under pressure, can play different positions," Joseph, who represented Japan at Rugby World Cup 1999, said.

"One of the biggest areas we have worked on is developing the players so they have the ability to adapt and adjust under pressure when the World Cup starts."

Japan have appeared at all eight Rugby World Cups but are yet to navigate the pool stage. Prior to England 2015, the Brave Blossoms had won just one of their 24 matches but their performance four years ago – when their only defeat came against Scotland – will give them hope of ending that wait.

Japan squad

Keita Inagaki, Yusuke Kizu, Jiwon Koo, Isileli Nakajima, Masataka Mikami, Hiroshi Yamashita, Koki Yamamoto, Asaeli Ai Valu, Takuya Kitade, Atsushi Sakate, Shota Horie, Kosuke Horikoshi, Samuel Anise, Luke Thompson, Grant Hattingh, Wimpie van der Walt, Uwe Helu, James Moore, Hendrik Tui, Yoshitaka Tokunaga, Shunsuke Nunomaki, Michael Leitch (captain), Pieter Labuschagne, Kazuki Himeno, Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco, Amanaki Lelei Mafi, Kaito Shigeno, Fumiaki Tanaka, Yutaka Nagare, Yu Tamura, Rikiya Matsuda, Kenki Fukuoka, Ataata Moeakiola, Lomano Lava Lemeki, Yusuke Kajimura, William Tupou, Ryoto Nakamura, Timothy Lafaele, Kotaro Matsushima, Jamie Henry, Ryuji Noguchi, Ryohei Yamanaka.