• Kyodo


The road to Rugby World Cup 2015 became clearer Monday with Japan head coach Eddie Jones naming a provisional squad of 41 players, and the Japan Rugby Football Union confirming the Brave Blossoms’ schedule ahead of the tournament, which kicks off in England on Sept. 18.

“I have named 41 players who will attend our first camp in January to be checked medically and also do some strength and conditioning testing,” Jones said. “This is the forerunner to our World Cup campaign, which starts in April.”

There are four uncapped players in the squad — forwards Ryu Sioapelatu Holani, Kazuhiko Usami and Tsuyoshi Murata and back Tim Bennetts — though Jones didn’t altogether rule out that others may be added over time.

“There is no permanency about the squad,” Jones said. “But players outside it have been told to change certain aspects of their game. Unless they can change they won’t be in contention.

“Our target is quite clearly set on making the quarterfinals of the World Cup and creating a new history for Japan rugby. The players at the first camp will understand the responsibility that carries and the commitment they have to make personally — to first make the (final) squad (of 31) and then obviously play well at the World Cup.”

Jones said that two players — Takuya Yamasawa and Amanaki Lelei Mafi — had not been included due to injury and, while he was hopeful both would recover in time, he admitted it would be difficult for either of them to make the plane to England.

The remainder of the squad are players that Jones has relied on for the last three years, meaning at this stage there is no spot for Leicester Tigers’ Christian Loamanu, who recently became eligible to play for Japan again after having a ban for drug use lifted by the JRFU.

Japan will play 12 tests in the lead-up to its opening game at the World Cup on Sept. 19 against two-time world champion South Africa.

The Brave Blossoms will take on Hong Kong and South Korea both home and away in the newly formatted Asian Rugby Championship in April and May, followed by four games against opponents to be determined by World Rugby in the Pacific Nations Cup, which will be held in the United States and Canada in July and August.

A test against an unnamed side will be held in Japan on Aug. 15, followed by two tests at home against Uruguay before the squad travels to England, where it will play Georgia in Gloucester on Sept. 5.

“We can’t control that, it is what we get,” Jones said when asked if he would have liked to have taken on sides ranked higher than the Brave Blossoms in the world rankings.

“Southern Hemisphere sides don’t want to travel to Japan for warm-up games, and we didn’t want to go to Europe too early. We had to look at teams that wanted to travel to Japan. And while Uruguay is probably not perfect, it is what we’ve got.”

Japan has won just one and drawn two of its 24 World Cup games, but Jones is hopeful this year’s tournament will be a different affair.

“Japan haven’t won a game at the World Cup in 20 years, and there is a reason we have not won for so long,” he said. “I do not want to repeat those mistakes. We must put ourselves in a position to be the best prepared squad. There is a lot of hard work ahead, but when I look at the squad I really feel it is capable of making the quarterfinals.”

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