Lappies Labuschagne has joined the Japanese team.

Lappies Labuschagne has joined the Japanese team.

Iconic former captain Michael Leitch and hooker Shota Horie have secured their places in Japan’s squad for the Rugby World Cup in France, marking their fourth appearance in the prestigious tournament.

Leitch, the influential loose forward who led Japan to the quarter-finals during their home World Cup in 2019, along with 37-year-old Horie, have both been selected among the initial 30 players for the squad. Head coach Jamie Joseph made three additional selections before the deadline.

Leitch’s recent suspension resulting from a red card he received in his first Test career match against Samoa last month will not hinder his availability for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

As it stands, Luke Thompson remains the sole player to have participated in four Rugby World Cups for Japan, spanning from 2007 to 2019. While center Yukio Motoki was part of four World Cup squads, he only played as an unused substitute during his debut tournament in 1991.

Wing/fullback Kotaro Matsushima, who notably scored five tries during Japan’s remarkable journey to the quarter-finals in 2019, is set to participate in his third World Cup.

The squad introduces three newcomers without previous Test experience: prop Sione Halasili, scrumhalf Kenta Fukuda, and second-rower Saumaki. Impressively, 19 players in the squad will be making their Rugby World Cup debuts.

Late additions to the squad include forwards Warner Dearns, Uwe Helu, and Lappies Labuschagne, as Jamie Joseph initially named only 30 players in his original announcement. On the other hand, second-rower James Moore has been excluded from the squad.

Flank Labuschagne, originally from South Africa, will miss Japan’s opening match against Chile due to a three-match ban stemming from a dangerous tackle in Japan’s loss to Fiji. While Labuschagne and Helu have prior Rugby World Cup experience from 2019, Dearns and Saumaki will be making their tournament debuts in France.

Japan Rugby World Cup 2023 Squad: Forwards: Keita Inagaki, Craig Millar, Sione Halasili, Koo Ji-won, Shinnosuke Kakinaga, Asaeli Ai Valu; Shota Horie, Atsushi Sakate, Kosuke Horikoshi; Jack Cornelsen, Warner Dearns, Uwe Helu, Amanaki Saumaki, Pieter ‘Lappies’ Labuschagne, Shota Fukui, Kazuki Himeno, Michael Leitch, Ben Gunter Backs: Naoto Saito, Yutaka Nagare, Kenta Fukuda; Lee Seung-sin, Rikiya Matsuda, Jumpei Ogura; Ryoto Nakamura, Tomoki Osada, Shogo Nakano, Dylan Riley; Siosaia Fifita, Semisi Masirewa, Jone Naikabula, Lomano Lemeki, Kotaro Matsushima

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