TOKYO – Japan will have to play the opening match of the Rugby World Cup against Russia on Friday without two of their key players – winger Kenki Fukuoka and loose forward Amanaki Mafi – after the pair failed to recover from injury in time.
Both players sustained injuries in the loss to South Africa earlier this month.
Fukuoka, who has scored 21 tries in 34 tests, went down with a calf injury early in that game whilst Mafi later suffered a shoulder injury.
Coach Jamie Joseph has selected maverick Lomano Lemeki as Fukuoka’s replacement and is hoping the 30-year-old has learnt from an erratic display in the recent win over Tonga.
“Mano, last time when he played Tonga, we felt he played reasonably well but there were opportunities he could have created for others and his decision-making was a wee bit off,” Joseph told reporters on Wednesday.
“He decided he wanted to penetrate and attack by himself. We need players who have the skills to be able to do that but also create for others.
“He has learnt that and he knows he has got an opportunity.”
Stalwart flanker Michael Leitch will captain the side, alongside Pieter Labuschagne and Mafi’s replacement Kazuki Himeno in a strong back row that will have their work cut out against the physical Russian side.
Two veterans from the 2015 World Cup, Luke Thompson, 38, and Fumiaki Tanaka, 34, have been named on the bench.
The Japan squad is:
15-Will Tupou, 14-Kotaro Matsushima, 13-Timothy Lafaele, 12-Ryoto Nakamura, 11-Lomano 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-Atsushi Sakate, 1-Keita Inagaki
Replacements: 16-Atsushi Sakate, 17-Isileli Nakajima, 18- Jiwon Koo, 19-Luke Thompson, 20-Henrik Tui, 21-Fumiaki Tanaka, 22-Rikiya Matsuda, 23-Ryohei Yamanaka