Sakura Fifteen Rugby World Cup Squad Announced

The Japan Rugby Football Union has today announced the 32 players and team staff making up the Japan National Team that will compete at Rugby World Cup 2021 (played in 2022) in New Zealand from October 8. The Sakura Fifteen will depart Japan for New Zealand on September 15, ahead of their final warm-up match against the Black Ferns on Saturday, September 24 at Eden Park in Auckland.

Following their test match against the Black Ferns, the first ever between the two countries, the Sakura Fifteen will remain in New Zealand to begin their final preparations ahead of their World Cup campaign, which kicks off against Canada on Sunday, October 9 in Whangarei. This will be followed by their remaining pool matches against the USA on Saturday, October 15, also in Whangarei, and against Italy on Sunday, October 23, at Waitakere Stadium in Auckland.

Captained by Saki Minami, the 32-member squad consists of 19 forwards and 13 backs. With the Sakura Fifteen having played nine test matches since returning to international rugby in the autumn of 2021, all players within the squad have experienced high-level, test match rugby. The squad combines a solid mix of experience and leadership, with 17 players having ten or more caps, as well as eight players who were part of Japan’s Rugby World Cup team in 2017. The squad also has a mix of exciting new players, with 15 having played less than ten tests.

Sakura Fifteen Head Coach Lesley McKenzie commented:

“We’re excited to announce our squad that will travel to New Zealand, not only for the World Cup but also for our first ever test against the Black Ferns. It’s a dream warm-up ahead of one of the most competitive World Cups ever, across the women’s game, as well as for the Japan programme. The players have been working towards this for so many years, so to think that its imminent is really exciting.

“A goal of mine when I began coaching Japan was to have a challenging selection process for this World Cup. It was my intention to be confronted by difficult choices in most, if not all positions. That was about growing our squad, growing the number of players we could pick from and growing them physically in terms of their capacity to play the game at a higher, more physical level. I’m really pleased with where we’re at. It’s not perfect, but I am very excited by the level of performance this team is now capable of.

“We’ve crafted the team with the expectation that everyone puts in all they can towards one group effort. There will be individuals that have breakout performances in the tournament, and I think for us, we will see a breakout in terms of the rest of the world beginning to appreciate the strength of Japanese rugby. I’m really looking forward to seeing performances from the team that make the rugby world stand up and take notice of what this team can do.”

Sakura Fifteen Rugby World Cup 2021 Squad: