Coach Eddie Jones on Monday named former Australian rugby league star utility back Craig Wing among a 31-strong Japan World Cup squad packed with imported talent for the tournament beginning next month.
Jones handed a place to former Kangaroos and New South Wales State of Origin player Wing, named Waikato Chiefs flanker Michael Leitch – who is of Fijian origin – as captain and included former Queensland Reds loose forward Hendrik Tui in the squad.
Australian Jones also turned to second-row forward Michael Broadhurst, who is the brother of one-cap All Black lock James Broadhurst, and picked veteran New Zealand-born big man Luke Thompson, 34, who can play either in the second or back rows.
A day before the Brave Blossoms step on the plane to England for their final warm-up against Georgia in Gloucester on Saturday, Jones said his squad had a “nice mix of experience and youth” despite containing 20 players who will be making their tournament debut.
But Jones, who will step down after the World Cup, said “you’re asking the wrong person” when questioned about the number of imported players in his final Japan squad.
“We’ve got approximately 42 players in Japan who are capable of playing in international rugby. That’s all I can pick from,” he said.
“It’s not my job to develop (Japan-born) international players.”
Jones recognised that two-thirds of his squad will be getting their first taste of World Cup action when they tackle formidable Pool B opponents South Africa, Samoa, Scotland and USA and said they would have to adjust rapidly to the step up in class.
“We’ve got to take a gamble with the squad. At the end of the day, what I tried to do was to pick the best 31 players,” he said.
Jones took Australia to the 2003 World Cup final against England and he said the way his debutants cope with their surroundings would be key to Japan’s chances.
“A Rugby World Cup is like the Olympic Games. It’s normal sport taking place in an abnormal setting. You need to learn how to relax. They understand the responsibility they carry,” he said.
The World Cup begins in England on September 18, with Japan’s opener coming against two-time winners South Africa a day later.
Jones is bidding to reverse Japan’s dismal record at the tournament, where their sole win was against Zimbabwe in 1991.
Forwards: Justin Ives, Shoji Ito, Keita Inagaki, Hitoshi Ono, Takeshi Kizu, Hendrik Tui, Luke Thompson, Kensuke Hatakeyama, Michael Broadhurst, Ryu Holani, Shota Horie, Shinya Makabe, Amanaki Mafi, Masataka Mikami, Hiroshi Yamashita, Hiroki Yuhara, Michael Leitch (captain)
Backs: Craig Wing, Kosei Ono, Ayumu Goromaru, Male Sau, Harumichi Tatekawa, Fumiaki Tanaka, Yu Tamura, Toshiaki Hirose, Atsushi Hiwasa, Kenki Fukuoka, Yoshikazu Fujita, Karne Hesketh, Kotaro Matsushima, Akihito Yamada