• Kyodo


Panasonic Wild Knights scrumhalf Keisuke Uchida will lead a very inexperienced side as Japan looks to maintain its mastery over South Korea and Hong Kong in the Asia Rugby Championship.

Brave Blossoms interim coach Ryuji Nakatake named a 30-man squad that between them has just 33 caps — 12 of them to Uchida — on Thursday for the home-and-away tournament.

Not one member of the Japan squad that won three games at the 2015 Rugby World Cup was included in the squad, which features nine members of the Sunwolves, 10 university students and 11 Top League players.

“The Japan team that plays Scotland in June will be the real Japan. This is more like Junior Japan,” Nakatake said at the Japan Rugby Football Union headquarters.

However, he stressed this was a good opportunity for players to stake a claim for a place in the national jersey as the Brave Blossoms look to build toward Rugby World Cup 2019.

Nakatake will take charge of the games in April and May before handing over the reins to Sunwolves coach Mark Hammett, who will be in charge for the two-match series against Scotland and a test against Canada.

Hammett in turn will then hand over to new Japan coach Jamie Joseph, who takes up the role in August.

“I haven’t talked with Joseph or Hammett but I have talked with (National Director of Rugby Masahiro) Kunda and (Sunwolves director Makoto) Tamura,” said Nakatake.

Along with Uchida, three other players who just missed out on the 2015 World Cup — the Canon Eagles pair of center Tim Bennetts and lock Kazuhiko Usami and Kobe Kobelco Steelers flyhalf Ryohei Yamanaka — are included in the squad that Nakatake says will play “proactive rugby.”

The nine Sunwolves named — who include Kubota Spears prop Kengo Kitagawa who was added to the squad this week — have all either played a very limited role in the games to date or in most cases not appeared in any match-day squads.

NTT Communications Shining Arcs flanker Shokei Kin, who led Japan in the recent World Rugby Pacific Challenge, has been included but the inclusion of a number of back row forwards means he is not guaranteed a place in the starting XV, thereby ensuring Uchida was handed the captaincy.

“We will play simple rugby and he is the link between the forwards and backs and the most capped player so I expect him to show leadership,” Nakatake said of Uchida.

Japan has picked up bonus-point wins in 31 of 32 games in the Asia Rugby Championship and its predecessor the Asian 5 Nations. The only glitch came last year when the game in Hong Kong was abandoned as a draw after heavy rain forced the referee to call a halt to proceedings with Japan leading 3-0 with 13 minutes on the clock.

The Brave Blossoms open this year’s campaign against the Koreans in Yokohama on April 30. They then visit Hong Kong on May 7, travel to Incheon on May 21 before wrapping up the series against Hong Kong in Tokyo on May 28.

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The squad is as follows:

Forwards — Takayuki Watanabe (Tokai Univ.), Koo Ji Won (Sunwolves), Kengo Kitagawa (Sunwolves), Yu Chinen (Toshiba Brave Lupus), Kanta Higashionna (Canon Eagles), Futoshi Mori (Sunwolves), Atsushi Sakate (Panasonic Wild Knights), Kazuhiko Usami (Sunwolves), Naohiro Kotaki (Toshiba Brave Lupus), Kotaro Yatabe (Panasonic Wild Knights), Taiyo Ando (Sunwolves), Shokei Kin (NTT Shining Arcs), Hiroki Yamamoto (Toshiba Brave Lupus), Masato Furukawa (Ritsumeikan Univ.), Tsuyoshi Murata (Sunwolves), Tevita Tatafu (Tokai Univ.), Faulua Makisi (Tenri Univ.)

Backs — Keisuke Uchida (Panasonic Wild Knights), Daisuke Inoue (Sunwolves), Daiki Nakajima (Ryutsu Keizai Univ.), Ryohei Yamanaka (Sunwolves), Ryoto Nakamura (Suntory Sungoliath), Takuya Ishibashi (NTT Shining Arcs), Tim Bennetts (Canon Eagles), Ataata Moeakiola (Tokai Univ.), Kentaro Kodama (Panasonic Wild Knights), Takuhei Yasuda (Doshisha Univ.), Doga Maeda (Tsukuba Univ.), Ryuji Noguchi (Tokai Univ.), Hajime Yamashita (Sunwolves)

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