Three players who had their rugby grounding in South Africa have been included in Japan’s rugby team for the opening match of the Rugby World Cup against Russia on Friday.
Lappies Labuschagne, 30, who represented the Cheetahs before moving to Pretoria where he played in 22 matches for the Bulls and captained the Blue Bulls, skippered Japan in his test debut against Fiji eight weeks ago.
Labuschagne has played in 58 Super Rugby matches for the Cheetahs (29), Bulls (22) and the Sunwolves (7). He is No 7 flank for the RWC opener.
Labuschagne has only three caps.
Wimpie van der Walt, 30, has been selected as the No 4 lock to face Russia. He has 12 test caps after making his debut for Japan in 2017. He played junior rugby for the Pumas and Western Province, had a stint in Italy with San Gregorio, played for the EP Kings and Southern Kings (2013) and also represented the Blue Bulls and Bulls (2014).
Kotaro Matsushima, 26, was born in Pretoria but finished his schooling in Japan. He returned to South Africa in 2012, joined the Sharks Academy and played for the Sharks u19s. He was invited to a Junior Springbok camp but didn’t make the 2013 Juniors Boks team.
The winger represented the Sharks U21s in 2013 and also made his first-class debut for the Sharks XV in the Vodacom Cup against the Blue Bulls.
Matsushima also played Super Rugby for the Melbourne rebels (2016) and the Sunwolves (2017-’18) and was in the Waratahs squad in 2015 without making an appearance. The winger is a prolific try-scorer and has notched up 17 tries in 34 matches for Japan.
♦ Japan captain Michael Leitch is one of eight players in Japan's match-day squad who were also in the 23 that defeated South Africa in the Brave Blossoms' RWC 2015 opener.
Japan team –
15 William Tupou, 14 Kotaro Matsushima, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Ryoto Nakamura, 11 Lomano Lava Lemeki, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Yutaka Nagare, 8 Kazuki Himeno, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Michael Leitch (captain), 5 James Moore, 4 Wimpie van der Walt, 3 Asaeli Ai Valu, 2 Shota Horie, 1 Keita Inagaki. Replacements: s16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Isileli Nakajima, 18 Koo Ji-won, 19 Luke Thompson, 20 Hendrik Tui, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Rikiya Matsuda, 23 Ryohei Yamanaka.