Japan Kick-off Autumn Internationals against World XV

To kick-off the autumn international season, a Japan XV side under head coach Jamie Joseph takes on a very formidable World XV side at the Level-5 Stadium in Fukuoka on Saturday, 28 October 2017 in the Japan Rugby Challenge Match 2017.

This is the second time for the World XV to visit Japan after they beat a Japan XV side 45-20 in a warm-up game for the Rugby World Cup 2015 in Tokyo back in mid-August 2015. Robbie Deans, who coaches the Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan, is again the head coach of the world side.

Joseph is gradually honing the Japan national side for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, but on this occasion he is giving a number of younger players and otherwise uncapped players a run in this non-test match before the Brave Blossoms face Australia in Yokohama next week followed by Tonga and France in France later in November.

In the starting side, Keita Inagaki, Atsushi Sakate and Jiwon Koo make up an inexperienced front row, while the uncapped pair of Kazuki Himeno and South African-born Wimpie van der Walt start in the second row. In the back-row, Yoshitaka Tokunaga is the blindside flanker, Shunsuke Nunomaki is on the open side and captain Michael Leitch is the No8.

In the backs, the halves pairing of Fumiaki Tanaka and Yu Tamura adds experience and depth to the squad, while Ryoto Nakamura will collaborate with the uncapped Sione Teaupa in the centres. Akihito Yamada and Lomano Lemeki are the wings while Ryuji Noguchi is the fullback and only university student in the squad. In all likelihood, Tamura will be the goal kicker, but Nakamura is another option.

On the extended 10-man bench, Takeshi Hino, Shintaro Ishihara and the uncapped Asaeli Ai Valu are the spare front row, Kotaro Yatabe and Uwe Helu will cover the second row while Fetuani Lautaimi and Shuhei Matsuhashi are the back-rowers on the woodwork. Joseph is carrying three backs on the bench with Yutaka Nagare the back-up halfback while Rikiya Matsuda and Ryohei Yamanaka complete the reserves.

Two years ago, the World XV under Deans had a strong Australian feel to it with 15 Australians in the squad, but this time round there is more of a truly international flavour to the team. In the 24-man squad, there are eight South African, five each from Australia and New Zealand, three local players from Japan and one each from England, Argentina and Italy. Many of the overseas player are actually based in Japan while six players are from Deans’ impressive Panasonic club.

The all-South African front row of Jacques van Rooyan, former Springbok captain Adriaan Strauss and Ruan Smith will test the Japanese up front while Englishman Geoff Parling will lock the scrum with South African RG Snyman. The two locks are both currently playing in Japan with Parling at Sanix and Snyman at Honda. Kwagga Smith and the Sunwolves pair of Willie Britz and Ed Quirk make up the back-row.

In the backs, Andy Ellis and Berrick Barnes are the halves and the only survivors from the World XV side that beat Japan two years ago with Ellis given the captaincy. Harold Vorster and Richard Buckman are the centres, Vince Aso and Yoshikazu Fujita the wings and Ayumu Goromaru is the fullback.

On the strong 9-man bench, former All Black hooker Corey Flynn is the elder statesman in the world side, while Greg Pleasants-Tate, Facundo Gigena and Jean-Pierre Smith are the spare props. The Japanese front rowers may be forgiven for seeing double at times in this match as Jean-Pierre Smith is the twin brother of Toyota prop Ruan who will start in the number three jersey. Sam Wykes and the Italian Simone Favaro will cover the rest of the forward positions. Nic Stirzaker from the Melbourne Rebels is the second halfback while the Panasonic pair of Takuya Yamasawa and former Wallaby Digby Ioane complete the listing.

Leitch and Tanaka are the only survivors in the Japanese side under Eddie Jones that lost to the Word XV in 2015. Goromaru was the starting fullback on the day, but on this occasion, he will wear the number fifteen jersey for the other side. Fujita was on the bench two years ago, but he too will play for the opposition this time.

At the team announcement, World XV head coach Robbie Deans commented, “Andy Ellis has all the qualities of leadership to successfully captain this World XV side. He has shown that with his performances at Kobe Steel this season and so he was an automatic choice for captain. For many in this world side, it is not the first time to take to the international stage. Nevertheless, for some of these players it is a great opportunity to show off their wares. This Japan team plays Australia next week in what is shaping up as a very important month of November for the national team. In preparation for the tough matches ahead, we hope that we can give them the best possible hit out in a taste of things to come.”

Captain Andy Ellis said, “I am very honoured to lead this very colourful World XV side against the Japan national team. I played for the World XV side against Japan back in 2015 in what was excellent preparation for them in the build up to their successful campaign at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. I am very much looking forward to this match on Saturday.”