By Chris Gallagher
TOKYO (Reuters) – Luke Thompson was handed the chance to play at a fourth Rugby World Cup on Thursday after being included in Japan’s squad for the tournament the Asian nation will host from next month.
The 38-year-old New Zealand-born lock was one of the more experienced players named in Jamie Joseph’s 31-man party for the Sept. 20-Nov. 2 tournament.
Forward Takuya Kitade, one of three hookers in the squad along with Shota Horie and Atsushi Sakate, was the only uncapped player.
The Brave Blossoms, who will be captained by loose forward Michael Leitch for the second successive World Cup, will be hoping they can ride a strong run of form and get out of the pool stages for the first time.
They came close to reaching the quarter-finals in 2015 in England where they famously stunned South Africa in the biggest upset in the history of the global showpiece.
They will go into their campaign next month brimming with confidence after trouncing Fiji, Tonga and the United States to take the Pacific Nations Cup and moving up to ninth in the world, matching their highest-ever ranking.
Japan will have a chance to test themselves against top-tier competition on Sept. 6 in a warm-up match against the Springboks, their first meeting since the World Cup four years ago.
Joseph’s side will kick off the Rugby World Cup against Russia on Sept. 20 in Tokyo. They will also play Ireland, Samoa and Scotland in Pool A.
Forwards – Michael Leitch (captain), Keita Inagaki, Yusuke Kizu, Jiwon Koo, Isileli Nakajima, Asaeli Valu, Takuya Kitade, Atsushi Sakate, Shota Horie, Luke Thompson, Wimpie van der Walt, Uwe Helu, James Moore, Hendrik Tui, Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 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.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)