Rugby

Akihito Yamada still hopes for a spot on Rugby World Cup team

AFP-JIJI, Kyodo

Japan winger Akihito Yamada said on Monday he is still targeting a spot on his country’s Rugby World Cup squad after joining French club Lyon on loan.

Yamada, 34, who started his nation’s shock victory over South Africa at the tournament four years ago, signed for the Top 14 outfit in August on a two-month temporary deal.

The 25-time international said he had spoken to the Brave Blossoms’ coaching staff, which is led by former All Black Jamie Joseph.

“I’m trying to get back into Japan’s squad for the World Cup. I just have to train hard every day,” he told AFP.

“I came here to get fit just in case of a World Cup call-up so I’m hopeful. If there’s an injury, I told them: ‘Please call me up,’ ” he added.

The flyer said he hoped the last-minute win over the Springboks in 2015 would serve the current group well.

“It was a great experience as a rugby player. I was lucky to be there. For Japanese rugby it was a great day. We have to use all that experience for this year’s World Cup,” he said.

Yamada is the second Japanese international to join a French club ahead of the new Top 14 season after hooker Takeshi Hino was handed a trial by champion Toulouse.

The pair follow in the footsteps of former Japan backs in Ayumu Goromaru and Christian Loamanu in joining sides in the French top-flight.

“My friend Hino, I believe he can do very well in Toulouse. We chatted just before and he’s just training hard to get some gametime,” said Yamada, who plays for the Top League’s NTT Communications Shining Arcs.

“It’s a great opportunity to make rugby bigger through Asia,” he added.

Yamada, who has scored 19 tries in his national team test career, said he would happily remain longer with Lyon, a semifinalist last season, if he wasn’t selected for the World Cup.

“I would like to stay here for longer in the season, because the Japanese season starts in January 2020, so there’s plenty of time,” he said.

“I would like to get into French rugby and also French culture,” he added.

Blue Impulse may perform

The organizing committee of the Rugby World Cup in Japan is considering having the Air Self-Defense Force’s Blue Impulse aerobatics corps perform on the opening day of the sport’s showpiece event, sources said Monday.

As the flight crew performed at both the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 and the 2002 soccer World Cup, the organizers hope to showcase the quadrennial rugby tournament as one of the largest sporting events Japan has ever hosted.

According to the sources, the local organizers are discussing the possibility with the Defense Ministry and other parties concerned of having the Blue Impulse conduct demonstrations over Tokyo Stadium (Ajinomoto Stadium) ahead of the opening ceremony on Sept. 20.

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