Brave Blossoms to Take on Italy Ahead of RWC

With only two weeks remaining until Rugby World Cup 2023 kicks off in France, Japan Head Coach, Jamie Joseph has today named his Brave Blossoms side to take on Italy in Treviso, this Saturday, 26 August in what will be the final World Cup warm-up for both sides. Fans tuning in from Japan will also be warming up for the late nights to come, with the 18:30 local kick-off translating to a 1:30am Sunday morning kick-off in Japan.

The Brave Blossoms will take on the Azzurri at Stadio Comunale di Monigo, the home of Italian powerhouse club, Benetton Rugby in the northeast of the country. The test match will be the ninth contested between the two sides since 1976, with Japan having won on only two previous occasions, compared to Italy’s six victories.

Joseph has named a team with just four new players coming into the match-day 23 from the side that went down to Fiji 12-35 in Tokyo, in the final match of the Lipovitan D Challenge Cup 2023 Pacific Nations Series.

In the front row, there is once again a direct swap between the starters and the bench, with veteran hooker, Shota Horie packing down alongside Craig Millar and Jiwon Gu at loosehead and tighthead respectively. Reserve props, Keita Inagaki and Asaeli Valu start this week from the pine, with Atsushi Sakate the reserve rake.

The second row sees the versatile Jack Cornelsen move from the backrow into the locks, alongside the equally versatile Uwe Helu, with both players capable of playing in the engine room as well as positions across the backrow. On the bench, the uncapped Amanaki Saumaki will make his test match debut after being selected as the reserve lock.

Michael Leitch, who will feature in his fourth World Cup, returns to the blindside flank for his 80th test cap for Japan following his suspension off the back of the red card he picked up against Samoa. Shota Fukui will earn his second test cap after being called back into the team after playing in the Samoa match, while Captain, Kazuki Himeno anchors the back of the scrum at number-eight.

In the halves there is a direct swap with the bench from the Fiji match with Yutake Nagare coming in at scrumhalf and the impressive Seungsin Lee moving into the playmaker role at flyhalf.  

The rest of the starting backline remains unchanged with the centre pairing of Tomoki Osada in his fourth test at inside-centre, alongside the hard running Dylan Riley at outside-centre. On the wings, Jone Naikabula and Semisi Masirewa start once again on the left and right wings respectively, while the ever-reliable Kotaro Matsushima starts the match at fullback.

Ben Gunter is once again named as the reserve backrow forward, while scrumhalf, Naoto Saito and flyhalf Rikiya Matsuda move to the bench alongside the experienced utility-back, Ryoto Nakamura who rounds out the matchday 23.

Commenting on the Brave Blossoms’ team selection, Japan Head Coach Jamie Joseph said:

“The team is in a good place. Physically we’re in really good condition, and we just have to start playing good rugby now. This weekend is a really important game for us ahead of the World Cup. Mentally the players have turned a page as being selected in the squad allows them to just focus on playing. Through the Pacific Nations Cup, with a squad of 43 players there is always anxiety around World Cup selection which plays a part in individual performances. That’s behind us now and we’re here as a team, and the players are really focused on the job at hand.”

The match will be broadcast live, nationwide across Japan on NHK & NHK PLUS from 01:10. Live streaming will be available on WOWOW Prime and via catch-up on WOWOW On Demand from 01:00 (Sunday, 27 August)

Following their match against the Azzurri, the Brave Blossoms head to their official Rugby World Cup Base Camp in Toulouse to prepare for their opening Pool D match against Chile on Sunday, 10 September at Stadium de Toulouse. They then face England on Sunday, 17 September at Stade de Nice, before returning to Stadium de Toulouse to take on Samoa on Thursday, 28 September. The Brave Blossom’s final pool match will be against Argentina on Sunday, 8 October at Stade de la Beaujoire, in Nantes.


No.NameTeamHeightWeightDate of BirthCaps
1Craig MILLARSAITAMA Panasonic WILD KNIGHTS1861161990/10/2912
2Shota HORIESAITAMA Panasonic WILD KNIGHTS1801041986/1/2171
3Jiwon GUKOBELCO KOBE STEELERS1831171994/7/2024
4Jack CORNELSENSAITAMA Panasonic WILD KNIGHTS1951101994/10/1315
5Uwe HELUKubota Spears Funabashi TOKYO-BAY1931201990/7/1218
7Shota FUKUISAITAMA Panasonic WILD KNIGHTS1861011999/9/281
8Kazuki HIMENO (C)TOYOTA VERBLITZ1871081994/7/2728
10Seungsin LEEKOBELCO KOBE STEELERS176852001/1/139
12Tomoki OSADASAITAMA Panasonic WILD KNIGHTS179901999/11/253
13Dylan RILEYSAITAMA Panasonic WILD KNIGHTS1871021997/5/213
16Atsushi SAKATESAITAMA Panasonic WILD KNIGHTS1801041993/6/2136
17Keita INAGAKISAITAMA Panasonic WILD KNIGHTS1861161990/6/248
18Asaeli Ai VALUSAITAMA Panasonic WILD KNIGHTS1871151989/5/725
20Ben GunterSAITAMA Panasonic WILD KNIGHTS1951201997/10/247
22Rikiya MATSUDASAITAMA Panasonic WILD KNIGHTS181921994/5/332

Japan vs Italy Past Results:

June 16, 2018 (L) 22-25 Kobe

June 9, 2018 (W) 34-17 Oita

June 21, 2014 (W) 26-23 Tokyo

August 13, 2011 (L) 31-24 Cesena

August 18, 2007 (L) 36-12 Aosta

June 11, 2006 (L) 52-6 Tokyo

July 4, 2004 (L) 32-19 Tokyo

October 21, 1976 (L) 25-3 Padova


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