Japan coach Eddie Jones named his 31-man squad for the Rugby World Cup on Monday.
A day before Japan leaves for England, where it will be pooled alongside South Africa, Scotland, Samoa and the United States, Jones said it had been a difficult week cutting players from the squad, but he was happy with the side he was taking.
“One of the most unpleasant things in coaching is telling players they are not in the squad,” Jones said. “I am pleased for the 31 that are in the squad. They all deserve their selection. We have a nice mix of experience and youth and have tried to cover as many possibilities as we can.
“When we started this project four years ago we aimed to build a squad with international experience with the starting members having around 600 caps. We are going to be short on that, but we do have experience in the team.”
The squad, which will be led by Michael Leitch, contains 17 forwards and 14 backs, while 13 other players have been put on standby.
The biggest surprise was the inclusion of both Kosei Ono and Toshiaki Hirose, although their ability to play a number of positions booked them a ticket, and allowed Jones to name just two scrum halves.
“One hundred percent,” Jones replied when asked if versatility had played a part. “We know Kosei can fill in at nine, while Hirose has special qualities as he can play 10 and wing and his leadership off the field is so important for us.”
Versatility was also the order of the day in the forwards with Justin Ives edging Hayden Hopgood.
“Justin is an invaluable player as he can play lock and back row and is a line-out forward,” Jones said.
Jones paid special tribute to Hopgood, who is without a club after being released by Kamaishi Seawaves earlier in the year.
“Foreign players in Japan get criticized a lot, but Hayden spent the last five months without any pay trying to get into the squad even after his wife had a baby,” he said.
Amanaki Lelei Mafi and Shinya Makabe were both named despite very limited playing time following serious injuries, while Ives and Akihito Yamada should be fully fit by the second week of September.
Japan plays its final warmup game against Georgia on Saturday in Gloucester and the team’s first game at the World Cup is Sept. 19 against the Springboks in Brighton.
Despite playing Scotland just four days after South Africa, Jones once again said he would not be playing a second-string side at the tournament.
“No one is guaranteed a game,” Jones said. “We are going to pick our strongest team every week and every game so some players may just be there to support the team.”
Props: Keita Inagaki, Masataka Mikami, Kensuke Hatakeyama, Hiroshi Yamashita.
Hookers: Shota Horie, Takeshi Kizu, Hiroki Yuhara.
Locks: Luke Thompson, Shinya Makabe, Shoji Ito, Hitoshi Ono.
Back Row: Michael Leitch (captain), Ryu Koliniasi Holani, Michael Broadhurst, Hendrik Tui, Amanaki Lelei Mafi, Justin Ives.
Scrum halves: Fumiaki Tanaka, Atsushi Hiwasa.
Flyhalves: Harumichi Tatekawa, Yu Tamura, Kosei Ono.
Centers: Craig Wing, Male Sa’u.
Wings: Kenki Fukuoka, Akihito Yamada, Karne Hesketh, Yoshikazu Fujita.
Fullback: Ayumu Goromaru.
Utility backs: Kotaro Matsushima, Toshiaki Hirose.
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