Joseph names side to play Italy in 1st test

TOKYO (June 7) – Michael Leitch will lead a Japan side that contains a mixture of youth and experience when they play Italy on Saturday at Oita Bank Dome in the first of two tests.

Leitch, who will be winning his 54th cap, lines up at openside flanker alongside two of the form players in this year’s Super Rugby competition – No. 8 Amanaki Lelei Mafi and Kazuki Himeno.

The trio will play behind a front five that includes hooker Shota Horie, who will be winning his 56th cap, and loosehead prop Keita Inagaki, who has plenty of experience at Super Rugby and test match level.

Tighthead prop Koo Ji Won makes up the front row with Wimpie van der Walt and Samuela Anise named in the second row.

“The set piece will be crucial this weekend,” said coach Jamie Joseph. “Italy have traditionally had a strong set piece and will target us in those areas.”

Joseph has opted for his most experienced halfback partnership with Fumiaki Tanaka, playing in his 65th test, pairing up with Yu Tamura, who moves to within one cap of a half century of appearances for his country.

Centres Timothy Lafaele and William Tupou have plenty of Super Rugby experience as does fullback Kotaro Matsushima, while the wings – Kenki Fukuoka and Lomano Lava Lemeki – both represented Japan at the Rio Olympics.

“The great thing about the Sunwolves is we are getting more exposure to tougher competitions and experience that we’ve never had before so I am very comfortable with all the players,” Joseph said of the 23-man squad, 20 of whom have played for the Japanese Super Rugby side.

Yusuke Niwai, Shintaro Ishihara and Takuma Asahara provide cover for the front row on the bench with Uwe Helu and Yoshitaka Tokunaga the two other replacement forwards.

Yutaka Nagare, Rikiya Matsuda and Ryoto Nakamura are the reserve backs.

“The preparation has been great. The players came very motivated and keen to do well and there is a really good feeling in the camp,” Joseph said.

“We have done enough training. Now It’s time to play the game.”