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Brave Blossoms boosted by return of veteran players ahead of Wallabies test

Kyodo

Japan coach Jamie Joseph sprung a surprise Thursday when he named his 23-man squad to take on Australia on Saturday at Nissan Stadium.

Harumichi Tatekawa, who was expected to miss the first two games of the autumn test series, was named in the centers alongside Timothy Lafaele.

In a revamped backline, the pair will play outside Fumiaki Tanaka and Rikiya Matsuda, with Ryuji Noguchi and Lomano Lava Lemeki on the wings and Kotaro Matsushima at fullback.

Michael Leitch leads the side from blindside flanker and forms an athletic back row alongside No. 8 Amanaki Lelei Mafi and Shunsuke Nunomaki.

Kazuki Himeno wins his first cap in the second row where he will partner Uwe Helu, with Keita Inagaki, Shota Horie and Takuma Asahara in the front row.

“We have the return of some experienced players that weren’t available for the World XV match, such as Horie, Asahara, Tatekawa and Lafaele,” Joseph said.

“Fumi (Tanaka) also returns after we lost him in the first five minutes last week. Having those experienced guys against a very experienced Wallabies team is crucial.”

“We had an injury to Tamura from the World XV game. He is fit to play, but it gives an opportunity to play Rikiya Matsuda. He’s a young player who shows plenty of potential and promise, and he gets to test himself against one of the best teams in the world.”

Joseph said Kenki Fukuoka would have been chosen on the wing but he has been suffering from flu all week and his absence paves the way for Noguchi to add to his 11 caps.

There are a further four debutants on the bench with prop Asaeli Ai Valu, lock Wimpie van der Walt, back-row forward Fetuani Lautaimi and center Sione Teaupa all in position to win their first caps.

“We don’t have that many chances to play top level opposition before the Rugby World Cup,” said Leitch. “We need to prepare throughly and be mentally sharp.”