Japan boss Jamie Joseph on Monday named 19 of Japan’s World Cup heroes in his first squad since their historic 2019 exploits for “huge” matches against the British and Irish Lions and Ireland.
Japan have not played since losing to South Africa in the quarter-finals on home soil more than a year and a half ago, but will face the Lions in Edinburgh on June 26 before taking on Ireland in Dublin on July 3.
Joseph warned that limited preparation time means he will have to “keep things very simple” when the squad meet for a training camp this week ahead of the blockbuster clashes.
“Both Test matches are huge — if you thought about Japan embarking on a mission to play the British Lions and Ireland a couple of years ago, it would be untenable,” he told reporters.
“It’s new landscape for us as a team, and we’ll just keep things very simple but at an intensity that we think we’re going to get overseas, which is very high, very physical and very fast.”
Joseph’s 36-man squad contains 19 of the players who featured in Japan’s run to the World Cup quarter-finals two years ago, including captain Michael Leitch.
Loose forward Kazuki Himeno, who played this season for the Otago Highlanders in Super Rugby Aotearoa, and Clermont winger Kotaro Matsushima were both named, and will join the squad when it arrives in Europe.
There was a call up for former Munster winger, Gerhard van den Heever.
“We need players that are experienced in playing Test matches,” said Joseph.
“Where we felt that those players were in good form or had the necessary experience with minimal time to prepare, we selected those guys.”
Japan will warm up for the Lions game with a match against a select side on June 12 in Shizuoka, the site of their historic World Cup win over Ireland.
They will return to Murrayfield in November to face Scotland, who they also beat en route to the World Cup last eight.
“This tour is really just the starting point for us to reconnect and see how it’s going — how the mix is going to end up by the time we get to the World Cup,” said Joseph.
Japan squad (to play British and Irish Lions in Edinburgh on June 26 and Ireland in Dublin on July 3)
Forwards: Keita Inagaki, Asaeli Ai Valu, Shinnosuke Kakinaga, Jiwon Koo, Craig Millar, Yukio Morikawa, Atsushi Sakate, Shunta Nakamura, Kosuke Horikoshi, Mark Abbott, Wimpie van der Walt, Uwe Helu, James Moore, Naoki Ozawa, Ben Gunter, Jack Cornelsen, Pieter Labuschagne, Michael Leitch, Tevita Tatafu, Amanaki Lelei Mafi, Kazuki Himeno
Backs: Koki Arai, Naoto Saito, Kaito Shigeno, Yu Tamura, Rikiya Matsuda, Shota Emi, Siosaia Fifita, Semisi Masirewa, Kotaro Matsushima, Lomano Lava, Lemeki, Shane Gates, Ryoto Nakamura, Timothy Lafaele, Gerhard van den Heever, Ryohei Yamanaka
Munster Confirm Three New Signings
Munster Rugby and the IRFU are pleased to confirm the signing of Oli Jager from the Crusaders with the tighthead prop signing a contract until the summer of 2027.
Hooker Eoghan Clarke is rejoining Munster on a short-term contract with back three player Colm Hogan also returning on a short-term deal.
Jager will join the province in the coming weeks with his contract beginning at the start of December.
Born in London, Jager started out at Naas RFC before playing schools rugby at Newbridge College and Blackrock College. He lined out for the Ireland U18 Schools team in 2013 before moving to Canterbury in New Zealand at the age of 17.
Initially attending the Crusaders International High Performance Unit, he earned a place in the Crusaders Academy in 2014. After impressing with New Brighton RFC, he earned a place in the Canterbury squad for the Mitre 10 Cup in 2016.
Jager made his Super Rugby debut for the Crusaders in 2017 and has been a key member of their squad for the past seven years, winning seven consecutive Super Rugby titles.
Eoghan Clarke spent three years in the Munster Academy before departing for Jersey Reds in March 2021. A former Ireland U20 international, Clarke won the English Championship with Jersey Reds last season before the club went into liquidation last month.
Colm Hogan, who has lined out for Ireland U20 and Munster A in the past, played his schools rugby with Glenstal Abbey. He captained Dublin University in the AIL and also had a spell with Colomiers in the PRO D2 while studying in France.
The 26-year-old played for Leinster against Chile last year and lined out with recent Munster arrival Alex Nankivell for Tasman Mako in the NPC this year.
Images & Content from Irish Rugby & Images © Inpho Photography
Key All Black announces sabbatical to play in Japan
All Blacks captain Sam Cane will take up a sabbatical option in his New Zealand Rugby (NZR) contract in 2024 to play a season for Suntory in Japan League One.
The 31-year-old, 95-Test loose forward will miss the 2024 DHL Super Rugby Pacific season with the Chiefs, but will return to New Zealand in June to be available for selection to the All Blacks for the 2024 Steinlager Series and Rugby Championship campaign.
Cane, who is contracted to NZR through to the end of 2025, said he was looking forward to experiencing a new playing environment with Suntory and learning more about a new culture in Japan.
“When the opportunity to play for Suntory in 2024 came up it felt like the right time following the Rugby World Cup to try something new and also a great chance to continue to grow and learn in my rugby and life journey. I’m grateful to New Zealand Rugby for their support to take this opportunity.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to skip a season with the Chiefs, but I know the team is in a great place and has an incredible group of leaders in the squad and the coaching group to have a successful 2024, and I’m really pleased to be able to return in time to put my best foot forward for selection in the All Blacks.”
NZR CEO Mark Robinson said:
“Sam’s decision to take a sabbatical in 2024 has our full support and we wish him and his family all the best for their time in Japan. There are very few players who have given as much as he has to the jerseys he’s worn in his career to date and it’s a mark of his commitment to the All Blacks that he will return and make himself available for the Test season.”
Gallagher Chiefs Head Coach Clayton McMillan said:
“Sam has given everything to this team on and off the field and deserves to take this opportunity to experience something different. He is an exceptional player and influential leader who has been an integral part of the Gallagher Chiefs for many years. We wish him and his family all the best and hope they enjoy their time in Japan after a full-on year.”
Key All Black commits to Gallagher Chiefs until 2025
Dominant loose forward Luke Jacobson has extended his contract with the Gallagher Chiefs, Waikato and New Zealand Rugby until the end of 2025.
The 18-test All Black was a consistent starter for the Gallagher Chiefs this year and a key element of their outstanding DHL Super Rugby Pacific performances. He consequently went on to be named in the All Blacks squad to travel to France.
Gallagher Chiefs head coach Clayton McMillan is delighted to have Jacobson sticking around for another two seasons.
“Luke is an outstanding player; he’s a workhorse, a consistent performer and considered a real warrior within our group. Luke leads by example both on and off the field. He isnt one to waste words and prefers to let his actions speak for themself. In the absence of some senior players who have moved on, I have no doubt Luke will play an integral part providing the leadership and guidance our younger players will be looking for”.
Jacobson has impressed throughout his career, playing for the New Zealand U20s team twice and captaining them in his second season to win the 2017 U20 World Championship title. This aptitude for leadership has seen him pull on the Gallagher Chiefs captain’s armband on multiple occasions.
Waikato Rugby head coach Ross Filipo is excited about Luke extending his career with Waikato. “He is a great man and a great leader who continues to make huge contributions on and off the field and always represents the region with pride.”
Speaking on his signing Jacobson said: “I’m stoked to signing on with the Waikato, Chiefs and NZR for another two years. I love representing these teams and am very proud to be able to call myself a Waikato/Chiefs man and also and All black. I’m hungry to succeed with these teams and tick off a few unticked boxes.”
The 2024 Gallagher Chiefs squad will be named later this year ahead of assembling for pre-season training.