Japan faces eligibility and injury issues as squad named for Pacific Nations Cup
Coach Jamie Joseph has whittled down his 42-man World Cup training squad to 31 for the upcoming Pacific Nations Cup. A number of the cuts, however, were forced due to the unavailability of various players.
Australian-born Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco, a Sunwolves fan favourite, will not meet World Rugby’s eligibility requirements for Japan by the time the World Cup rolls around in September so has naturally been dropped from the squad.
Warren-Vosayaco, who primarily operates in the loose forwards, was sometimes selected in the midfield during the Super Rugby season. His ability to cover five different positions off the bench would have been invaluable for the Brave Blossoms throughout the year.
Warren-Vosayaco isn’t the first player that Japan might have expected to have available to be ruled out recently due to not meeting eligibility requirements. 21-year-old Ben Gunter, also born in Australia, was ruled ineligible last month. Gunter also plays in the loose forwards and notched 11 caps for the Sunwolves this year.
To add to Joseph’s loose-forward woes, Grant Hattingh has been ruled out of the World Cup due to a groin injury. Johanessburg-born Hattingh was expected to debut for Japan during the Pacific Nations Cup.
Still, even with a number of players unavailable, the loose forwards are shaping up as one the Brave Blossoms’ strengths.
Hendrik Tui, Amanaki Lelei Mafi and captain Michael Leitch have ample experience at all levels of the game whilst well-travelled Super Rugby player Pieter Labuschagne has now met the requirements to suit up too. They will be joined by Yoshitaka Tokunaga and Shunsuke Nunomaki and Kazuki Himeno who all have fewer than 10 caps for the national side.
Leitch has not played a match in over six months and is still only a ‘maybe’ to suit up in the PNC.
The other injury-hit area of the squad is in the front row.
Keita Inagaki (25 caps), Yusuke Kizu (0), Shogo Mura (5) and Asaeli Ai Value (5) are the only props selected in the squad. Jiwon Koo, Masataka Mikami, Hiroshi Yamashita and Koki Yamamoto were all named in the initial training squad but have been scratched due to injury.
Joseph will be hoping that no further injuries hit his team before the Pacific Nations Cup kicks off next weekend. Of course, the real prize is the World Cup later in the year, but there’s plenty of water to go under the bridge between now and then.
Japan squad for Pacific Nations Cup
Loose forward – Hendrik Tui (43), Yoshitaka Tokunaga (10), Shunsuke Nunomaki (7), Michael Leitch (59), Pieter Labuschagne (0), Kazuki Himeno (9), Amanaki Lelei Mafi (22)
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