Joseph Names RWC Squad

TOKYO (Aug. 29) – Japan coach Jamie Joseph named his 31-man squad for Rugby World Cup 2019 on Thursday, 22 days before the Brave Blossoms open the tournament against Russia in Tokyo.
Michael Leitch captains a side that features 21 players making their first appearance at a Rugby World Cup, including uncapped hooker Takuya Kitade.
Leitch, Shota Horie and Fumiaki Tanaka will be taking part in their third straight tournament, while Luke Thompson will join an elite group of players to have featured in four World Cups.
“Of all the teams I have coached I have always tried to create a group that will do anything to achieve their goal and I can confidently say this group are aligned and ready to go,” said Joseph.
The squad is based on the group that recently beat Fiji, Tonga and the United States to win the Pacific Nations Cup.
But the return to fitness of props Isileli Nakajima and Koo Ji Won sees them included along with Kitade as Joseph opts for an 18:13 split between forwards and backs.
The back row is particularly competitive with Leitch joined by Amanaki Lelei Mafi, Hendrik Tui, Kazuki Himeno, Yoshitaka Tokunaga and Pieter “Lappies” Labuschagne.
Among the backs, Joseph has chosen a number of players who can play a number of positions, such as flyhalf/centre Rikiya Matsuda, centre/fullback Will Tupou and wing/fullback Kotaro Matsushima.
He has also opted for three scrumhalves in Tanaka, Kaito Shigeno and Yutaka Nagare,
Other players to feature in past World Cups include Keita Inagaki, Kenki Fukuoka and Yu Tamura.
Two Rio Olympians have been included in Tokunaga and Lomano Lava Lemeki.
“The team has set a goal of making the top eight for the first time in the history of Japanese rugby,” Joseph said. “The staff and players will give 150 percent. “We are under no illusions how difficult that is but it’s definitely our goal.”