Hosts Japan will aim to reach the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time, coach Jamie Joseph said as he named his squad for the tournament.

Captain Michael Leitch, 30, returned from injury in time for selection and leads the side for the second successive World Cup.

Japan claimed a shock victory against South Africa at the 2015 tournament but did not reach the last eight.

“The staff and players will give 150%,” said former All Black Joseph.

“Whether that’s enough only time will tell. The key difference this year is we are fit enough now to play that game. We’re training at a level of intensity that’s 25% higher than our matches – I think that’s our key weapon.”

A rice field in Japan painted with pictures of Kazuki Himeno, Michael Leitch and Fumiaki Tanaka

After moving to Japan to study aged 15, Leitch became a Japanese citizen in 2013 and was one of the try-scorers in their surprise 34-32 win against the Springboks at the 2015 World Cup.

Under , who is now England’s head coach, Japan went on to win two more games at the 2015 tournament, against Samoa and the USA.

This year, the Brave Blossoms are ranked ninth in the world and face Ireland, Scotland and Samoa in the pool stages as the World Cup takes place in Asia for the first time.

Forward Luke Thompson, 38, is also included in Joseph’s 31-man group and could become the sixth oldest player to have competed at a World Cup.

Fellow veteran Shota Horie, 33, will travel to his third World Cup, while hooker Takuya Kitade, 26, is the only uncapped player in the group.

Japan World Cup squad

Forwards: Keita Inagaki, Yusuke Kizu, Koo Ji-won, Isileli Nakajima, Asaeli Ai Valu, Takuya Kitade, Atsushi Sakata, Shota Horie, Luke Thompson, Wimpie van der Walt, Uwe Helu, James Moore, Hendrik Tui, Yoshitaka Tokunaga, Michael Leitch (captain), Pieter Labuschagne, Kazuki Himeno, Amanaki Mafi.

Backs: Kaito Shigeno, Fumiaki Tanaka, Yutaka Nagare, Yu Tamura, Rikiya Matsuda, Kenki Fukuoka, Ataata Moeakiola, Lomano Lemeki, William Tupou, Ryoto Nakamura, Timothy Lafaele, Kotaro Matsushima, Ryohei Yamanaka.


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