The Japan Rugby Football Union on Monday announced the 33-man squad that will play Canada and Scotland in June.
The squad includes 16 members of the 2015 Rugby World Cup squad and five uncapped players.
Heading the list of absentees are captain Michael Leitch and Ayumu Goromaru, who were both injured in recent Super Rugby games, and Akihito Yamada, who is hoping to make it to the Rio Olympics with the Japan sevens team.
“The selection is mostly made up of players from the 2015 Rugby World Cup and the Sunwolves,” national director of rugby Masahiro Kunda said in a press release.
“Some were not available due to injury or lack of fitness like Michael Leitch and Ayumu Goromaru, but the makeup of the squad is still worthy of beginning a new chapter in Japanese rugby and hopefully beating Scotland in a test for the first time. We’re counting on the younger players to gain as much international experience as possible toward the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.”
The side, to be coached by Japan’s second interim coach of the season, Mark Hammett, features a mix of veterans and youngsters with Hitoshi Ono the oldest and most capped at 38 years and 96 tests.
The squad also includes a pair of students in Tokai University’s Ryuji Noguchi, who played four games for Japan at the recent Asia Rugby Championship, and Teikyo University’s Rikiya Matsuda, who is uncapped.
The four other players who have yet to play for Japan are Yoshiya Hosoda, Yasutaka Sasakura, Kaito Shigeno and Mifiposeti Paea.
Seven members of the squad that won the ARC made it to the “top team” including captain Keisuke Uchida. There are also 15 members of the Sunwolves in the 33-man party.
A further eight were put on stand-by, but there was no place for Tongan-born back Hosea Saumaki.
The Daito Bunka University student played for Tonga in the Sevens World Series in 2012 at the Gold Coast Sevens and as such is deemed ineligible, though Kunda held out hope he could one day represent his adopted country.
“We had been negotiating with World Rugby for Saumaki to play in the Canada and Scotland tests, but he was not able to gain Japanese eligibility,” Kunda said.
“We are very disappointed he could not be included in the final 33, but he remains an important player to Japan. We will continue to negotiate with World Rugby so he can qualify to play for Japan.”
Another Tongan-born player, is back in Amanaki Lelei Mafi, who along with Kensuke Hatakeyama, recently spent some time in the English Premiership.
Four of Japan’s overseas Super Rugby players — Hendrik Tui, Fumiaki Tanaka, Male Sa’u and Kotaro Matsushima — were also named.
Other players back in the fold include veteran No. 8 Ryu Koliniasi Holani, flyhalf Kosei Ono and wing Karne Hesketh, whose try clinched Japan’s famous win over South Africa last year.
Japan faces Canada in Vancouver on June 11 and Scotland (the only side to beat Japan at RWC 2015) in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, on the 18th and in Tokyo on the 25th.
The squad is as follows:
Forwards: Kensuke Hatakeyama, Masataka Mikami, Shinnosuke Kakinaga, Keita Inagaki, Shota Horie, Takeshi Kizu, Futoshi Mori, Hitoshi Ono, Kazuhiko Usami, Naohiro Kotaki, Kotaro Yatabe, Ryu Koliniasi Holani, Hendrik Tui, Amanaki Lelei Mafi, Taiyo Ando, Yoshiya Hosoda, Hiroki Yamamoto.
Backs: Fumiaki Tanaka, Kaito Shigeno, Keisuke Uchida, Kosei Ono, Rikiya Matsuda, Harumichi Tatekawa, Yu Tamura, Mifiposeti Paea, Male Sa’u, Kotaro Matsushima, Ryoto Nakamura, Tim Bennetts, Kentaro Kodama, Karne Hesketh, Ryuji Noguchi, Yasutaka Sasakura.