Rugby World Cup year has begun for the Brave Blossoms as they this week embarked upon the first of their official training camps as ‘Rugby World Cup Training Squad (RWCTS).’
The likes of captain Michael Leitch, Kotaro Matsushima and Timothy Lafaele are part of a strong Japan squad that endured a week-long training camp at Canon Eagles’ training ground in Machida, Tokyo.
Eight players that impressed Jamie Joseph in last weekend’s charity game between a Top League XV against Clermont have all been added to the initial 20-man squad announced by the Brave Blossoms head coach last year.
Joseph was not at the training camp himself this week though, as he chose to fly to England to visit Eddie Jones along with Sunwolves head coach Tony Brown, to observe their Six Nations training session.
Koki Yamamoto, Kosuke Horikoshi, Isileli Nakajima, Yusuke Kajimura, Sione Teaupa and Ryohei Yamanaka, who all featured for Japan in tests in 2018 have been added to the RWCTS. Scrum-half Atsushi Hiwasa, who played a pivotal role at RWC 2015, has also been added to the squad as he looks to earn a shock recall to the national time. Uncapped hooker Takuya Kitade also joins the squad after impressing Jamie Joseph in the match against Clermont.
Panasonic stand-off Takuya Yamasawa, the first Japanese player to appear in the Top League having not gone through the traditional university system, has also earned a place in the now more than 30-man RWCTS, as he looks to give competition to Yu Tamura for the up until now uncontested no.10 jersey.
Shota Horie, while not officially announced by JRFU as part of RWCTS, has been seen training with the team as he continues his comeback from a navicular fracture in the right foot. Timothy Lafaele and Lomano Lemeki have also both been training with the squad but not formally announced by the JRFU.
While players taking part in last week’s RWCTS, which featured the bulk of players expected to start against Russia for the first game of RWC 2019, are not expected to feature for Sunwolves in the early part of the season, there is a possibility that those top players could join up with the Super Rugby outfit in the latter part of the season.
On the relationship between both teams, Japan captain Michael Leitch said: "It's one team. (Being able to have matches as Sunwolves) is a huge advantage. Other teams only have the test window, whereas we can strengthen continuously for 9 months. Therefore, there are no excuses (when it comes to RWC 2019”.
Sunwolves will act as a feeder team for the Brave Blossoms in 2019, with players who could be in contention for a place in the Japan squad playing alongside overseas players. 38-year-old Luke Thompson, who appeared for the Brave Blossoms at RWC 2015, this week signed for Sunwolves and has not ruled out an appearance at RWC 2019 with Japan.
Amanaki Mafi, meanwhile, is training with NTT Communications Shining Arcs, his Top League club, with criminal proceedings ongoing regrading the alleged assault of a teammate at Melbourne Rebels last season. The JRFU are expected to make a decision on his future with the Brave Blossoms once criminal proceedings are concluded.