Jamie Joseph marked a new era in Japanese rugby on Monday, naming his first Brave Blossoms squad for November tests against Argentina, Georgia, Wales and Fiji.
Yamaha accounted for a large part of the squad, with four forwards called up by Joseph after their impressive start to the Top League this season. Ricoh's Shuhei Matsuhashi, Honda Heat and Japan 7s star Mano Lemeki and Toshiba youngster Malgene Ilau are among the 16 players to receive their first call-ups.
Michael Leitch and Hendrik Tui were notable omissions from the Japan squad, with the duo having played non-stop rugby since last year's World Cup in two Top League seasons sandwiched either side of the 2016 Super Rugby campaign. Ayumu Goromaru is still regaining fitness at new club Toulon and was not an option for Joseph this time round.
Joseph said: Ricoh's Shuhei Matsuhashi, Honda Heat and Japan 7s star Mano Lemeki and Toshiba youngster Malgene Ilau are among the 16 players to receive their first call-ups.
Joseph: "We have 10+ players unavailable for selection due to retirement or personal reasons so selection was based on giving new players who have been performing well in the Top League an opportunity to play at international level."
The JRFU today announced Japan will take on Argentina on November 5th 2016 at Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium, Tokyo.
The test against Los Pumas will be the first of four November fixtures scheduled for new head coach Jamie Joseph and his side. Japan will play Georgia, Fiji and Wales following the encounter with Argentina.
The Brave Blossoms have faced Argentina on five prior occasions, most recently in April 2005 in a try-fest in Buenos Aires with Argentina prevailing 68-36 winners. Japan have won just one of the five test matches with Los Pumas to date - that victory, however, came in the most recent clash in Tokyo back in September 1998 (44-29).
Ayumu Goromaru will not be at Yamaha Jubilo for the 2016-17 Top League season, paving the way for a move to French club Toulon. News of the Japan full-back’s exit from the Shizuoka-based club broke only yesterday in the Japanese media, but we understand Goromaru said his farewells to club players at the start of the year.
The only stumbling block remaining is his contract with Yamaha Jubilo, which expires in 2017, with a club official stating “We have had no response from Goromaru and are waiting for a reply from him.”
Goromaru, who has struggled to impress at Super Rugby club Queensland Reds, scoring just 20 points in his 256 minutes in his debut season.
The Japanese heartthrob will not bring his family with him to France, should the move to Toulon go ahead as planned as speculation mounts regarding his private life.
One player who will be at Yamaha next season will be Gerhard van den Heever. The South African winger will join the club for the 2016-17 season from Munster on a one-year deal.
Super Rugby side Highlanders have called a press conference for Thursday afternoon, at which Roger Clark is expected to confirm head coach Jamie Joseph’s departure to Japan at the end of the season.
The Japan Rugby Football Association had reached a ‘basic agreement’ for Joseph, JRC understands, but have now satisfied Highlanders’ demands in regards to the money needed to release him from his contract at the end of the season. Wages still remain a stumbling block between the two parties.
Despite Highlanders looking almost certain to announce Joseph's departure on Thursday, the JRFU may choose to delay the official announcement of their new head coach until the early stages of next week after the Top League and Lixil Cup reach their conclusions this weekend.
Joseph had emerged as the frontrunner for the vacant head coach post after former England head coach Stuart Lancaster ruled himself out, despite reports claiming he was offered an annual salary in excess of £300,000 (500,000 USD).
Highlanders will still have Joseph in place as their head coach for the upcoming Super Rugby campaign, although he is expected to take charge of Japan’s summer tests against Scotland in June planned for the international break.
Joseph guided Highlanders to their first ever Super Rugby title last year and has become one of the hottest properties in Southern hemisphere rugby since. The 46-year-old spent five years playing in Japan for Fukuoka Sanix Blues and also made nine international appearances for Japan having represented New Zealand earlier in his career.