• Reuters, AFP-Jiji, Kyodo


Japan will play Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on July 3 following their clash with the British & Irish Lions on June 26, the Japan Rugby Football Union (JRFU) said on Monday.

Jamie Joseph's Brave Blossoms will travel to Ireland after taking on the Lions at Murrayfield in Edinburgh. The fixture is part of a revised international rugby summer schedule brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Japan last met Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup when they stunned Andy Farrell's side 19-12 in the pool stage in Shizuoka Prefecture. That marked Japan's only victory against the Irish, who have won the other nine meetings between the sides.

Ireland is currently fourth in the World Rugby rankings, while Japan is No. 10.

"We're delighted to be playing test match rugby again after such a long time, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic," national team director Yuichiro Fuji said in a statement on Monday.

"Both the Irish team and the Lions will be incredibly strong and provide a major challenge for us," he added.

"While it is hugely disappointing that we cannot play in front of our Japanese fans during this test match window, we are truly grateful for the opportunity to play again and we will fight hard for our fans back home."

Elsewhere, world champions South Africa will play for the first time since winning the Rugby World Cup in November 2019, when they host Georgia in a two-test series this July, SA Rugby announced Monday.

The Springboks are preparing for three matches against the touring British and Irish Lions later in July and August.

South Africa will meet Georgia on July 2 or 3 and 9 or 10, then tackle the Lions on July 24 and 31 and Aug. 7. Venues for both series will be confirmed later.

The coronavirus pandemic has prevented South Africa from playing since they defeated England 32-12 in Japan to lift the World Cup a record-equaling third time.

"Nothing beats a full-blooded international to test your skill set, readiness and ability under pressure, and we are delighted to have this opportunity before the Lions series," said director of rugby Rassie Erasmus.

Former Springbok Erasmus coached the World Cup-winning squad and has since returned to his original role, with Jacques Nienaber appointed head coach early last year.

"Jacques, his coaching staff and management have been working around the clock to get the team as well prepared as possible," Erasmus said.

"The Georgia series is a much-needed opportunity after such a long and unforeseen interruption due to COVID-19."

Nienaber said that the confirmation of the Georgian tests, and the announcement of the British and Irish Lions squad last week have "caused a lot of excitement."

"I am sure it will lift the spirit of the players — we can now accelerate our preparations for our return to test rugby."

The Springboks have played European second-tier side Georgia only once, winning 46-19 at the 2003 World Cup in Australia.

South Africa is ranked first in the world and Georgia 12th.

Senior Georgian official Lasha Khurtsidze said the series stemmed from growing friendship and cooperation between rugby officials in the two countries.

"Playing against them is a great honor for us," he said.

"We have only played the Springboks once before and scored the first try of the match. A lot of time has passed since, they are the current world champions and we have developed as well."

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