Rugby

Brave Blossoms name squad for autumn games

by Rich Freeman

Kyodo

Japan coach Jamie Joseph named a 35-man squad Monday for the Brave Blossoms’ autumn games that was more notable for who was not in the list than who was.

Veterans Shota Horie and Harumichi Tatekawa, as well as up-and-coming star Takuya Yamasawa all failed to make the cut for the games that see Japan play a World XV on Oct. 26 and New Zealand on Nov. 3 in Osaka and Tokyo, respectively, before they fly to England to take on Eddie Jones’ side at Twickenham on Nov. 17 and Russia in Gloucester on Nov. 24.

“Horie has a stress fracture of the foot and we felt it was not the right thing to do to include him,” Joseph said of the 32-year-old hooker, who has 58 caps to his name, adding that the injury could take anything between six weeks and six months to heal.

As for the 28-year-old center Tatekawa, who has played 55 times for his country, Joseph said, “We just feel he hasn’t played to a level we need him to play. It was a very hard decision, but we are confident he can bounce back and put his best foot forward.”

Yamasawa has been one of the standout players in the early rounds of the Top League, but he has been deemed surplus to requirements with his Panasonic Wild Knights clubmate Rikiya Matsuda and Yu Tamura named as the two flyhalves.

“Yamasawa is not as good as the other two,” Joseph said of the 24-year-old, who played three tests for Japan in the 2017 Asia Rugby Championship.

“The others have test match experience and although Yamasawa is in great form, Top League rugby is a little bit different from playing the All Blacks,” Joseph said. “Putting him in the cauldron against the best team in the world would not be good for his development.”

Two players with very limited first-class experience who could feature against the two-time defending Rugby World Cup champions are Kosuke Horikoshi and Yusuke Kajimura.

Horikoshi is named at his favored position of hooker, despite playing at loosehead prop in his first Top League season, while Kajimura — another TL rookie — is being looked at as both an inside and outside center.

“It’s an opportunity to see if we can develop them fast enough for the World Cup,” Joseph said of the Suntory Sungoliath pair.

Kajimura is one of three uncapped players in the squad alongside lock/No. 8 Isileli Nakajima and wing Jamie Henry.

Michael Leitch was named captain of the squad, which will be whittled down to 33 before the side flies to England, and which includes a number of recalled veterans in the form of prop Hiroshi Yamashita and flanker Hendrik Tui.

Takuma Asahara was also named, with Joseph saying any disciplinary measures for the tighthead prop falling asleep in a Tokyo street and being run over by a car last week would be dealt with by Toshiba Brave Lupus, his Top League club.

Joseph also said No. 8 Amanaki Lelei Mafi would not be picked until his ongoing court case in New Zealand for the alleged assault of a Melbourne Rebels teammate reaches its conclusion.