• Kyodo


Japan coach Jamie Joseph named his first match-day squad of 2017 Wednesday ahead of Saturday’s Asia Rugby Championship opener with South Korea in Incheon.

Scrumhalf Yutaka Nagare leads the 23-man squad, which contains 11 uncapped players as the Brave Blossoms look to continue their impressive run in the tournament.

Japan has won 35 games (all with a bonus point for scoring four tries or more) and drawn one since the format of the tournament was changed in 2008, the one glitch coming in 2015 when the game in Hong Kong was abandoned in the first half due to heavy rain with Japan leading 3-0.

“This is a great opportunity for the team to perform after being assembled for four weeks as national development squad members,” Joseph said.

“The new players are getting an opportunity to represent their country for the first time, which is always special for a rugby player. The young players, who were part of the Pacific Nations Cup program, are also getting an opportunity to play, which gives us a chance to look at them play with more experienced players.”

Nagare teams up with fellow debutant Jumpei Ogura at halfback with Ryoto Nakamura and Ryohei Yamanaka providing some experience in midfield.

Amanaki Lotoahea and the student pair of Ryuji Noguchi and uncapped Seiya Ozaki make up an exciting back three.

The pack contains just three players who have experienced test-match rugby in hooker Takeshi Hino, tighthead prop Takayuki Watanabe and lock Kazuhiko Usami, the most experienced player in the squad with nine tests to his name.

Vice captain Shintaro Ishihara will pack down at loosehead prop, with Yuya Odo partnering Usami in the second row, while Daiki Yanagawa, Naoki Ozawa and Yoshitaka Tokunaga — who was part of the Sunwolves side that beat the Bulls — form the back row.

On the bench, Atsushi Sakate, Kohei Asahori and Genki Sudo provide the front-row cover, with Naohiro Kotaki and Yoshiya Hosoda — whose one cap to date saw him red-carded against Canada in June 2016 — the two other replacement forwards.

Takahiro Ogawa, Rikiya Matsuda and Chikara Ito are the three reserve backs.

“The standard of rugby we play will be my measure of our performance. The players are very clear of our game plan and their role within this and it’s their execution of the same that I am most interested in,” Joseph said.

Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong play each other on a home-and-away basis. The bottom side in the competition may be challenged to a promotion-relegation playoff by the winning nation from Division 1 to earn the right to compete in the 2018 series.

Last year, Malaysia turned down the chance to take on South Korea.

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