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Leitch To Lead Much-Changed Japan Team

Leitch To Lead Much-Changed Japan Team

Japan head coach Jamie Joseph has selected his team for Saturday’s second Test against Ireland, making eight personnel changes and two positional switches for the Tokyo clash.

Flanker Michael Leitch will captain the Japanese side on the occasion of his 50th cap, with last week’s skipper Shota Horie among the players to drop to the bench.

Five of the eight changes come in the pack where Shintaro Ishihara, Yusuke Niwai and Takuma Asahara, who have 14 caps between them, make up an all-new front row. Luke Thompson, who played at Blackrock College RFC during the early part of his career, returns for his first appearance since the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

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The Christchurch-born Thompson will make his comeback 18 months on from announcing his international retirement. With the Japan squad hit by injuries, he slots back in alongside Uwe Helu in the second row.

Openside Shuhei Matsuhashi joins Leitch and Amanaki Lelei Mafi in the back row, and there are new combinations both at half-back (Jumpei Ogura and Yutaka Nagare) and in the centre (Kotaro Matsushima and Yu Tamara).

Will Tupou is suspended following a tip tackle on Devin Toner during the Shizuoka match, while fellow centres Timothy Lafaele (pulled groin), Harumichi Tatekawa (calf strain) and Derek Carpenter (leg infection) are absent due to injury.

Akihito Yamada has recovered from a hamstring injury to start on right wing, forming an exciting back-three with Kenki Fukuoka and Ryuji Noguchi – two of the Brave Blossoms’ three try scorers last Saturday.

“We are giving an opportunity to some players who made an impact off the bench last week,” explained Jamie Joseph after training today at Tatsumi Rugby Ground. He said his charges have responded well to last week’s defeat and are building for an improved performance and result.

“We were far from winning last week and I am confident there has been a correction around the attitude – and the leaders have been driving that attitude,” he added.

“(Michael Leitch) is a good player and leader. Having Shota come on in the second half with his energy will make a difference. To win the match we need to play for 80 minutes and we need our experienced leaders to come on and show composure, discipline and intensity in the later stages.”

This weekend’s second Test between Japan and Ireland kicks off at 2.40pm local time/6.40am Irish time and will be broadcast live on eir Sport 2 in Ireland and Premier Sports in the UK.

JAPAN Team & Replacements (v Ireland, 2017 Summer Tour Second Test, Ajinomoto Stadium, Tokyo, Saturday, June 24, kick-off 2.40pm local time/6.40am Irish time):

Player/Club/Caps –

15. Ryuji Noguchi (Tokai University) 10
14. Akihito Yamada (Panasonic Wild Knights) 22
13. Kotaro Matsushima (Suntory Sungoliath) 24
12. Yu Tamura (Canon Eagles) 44
11. Kenki Fukuoka (Panasonic Wild Knights) 19
10. Jumpei Ogura (NTT Communications) 3
9. Yutaka Nagare (Suntory Sungoliath) 5
1. Shintaro Ishihara (Suntory Sungoliath) 5
2. Yusuke Niwai (Canon Eagles) 2
3. Takuma Asahara (Toshiba Brave Lupus) 7
4. Luke Thompson (Kintetsu Liners) 62
5. Uwe Helu (Yamaha Jubilo) 5
6. Michael Leitch (Toshiba Brave Lupus) (capt) 49
7. Shuhei Matsuhashi (Ricoh Black Rams) 7
8. Amanaki Lelei Mafi (NTT Communications) 15


16. Shota Horie (Panasonic Wild Knights) 51
17. Keita Inagaki (Panasonic Wild Knights) 15
18. Takayuki Watanabe (Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers) 9
19. Kotaro Yatabe (Panasonic Wild Knights) 14
20. Yoshitaka Tokunaga (Toshiba Brave Lupus) 6
21. Fumiaki Tanaka (Panasonic Wild Knights) 60
22. Rikiya Matsuda (Panasonic Wild Knights) 8
23. Ryohei Yamanaka (Kobe Steel Kobelco Steelers) 10