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Joseph surprises with Super Rugby opener selections

Jamie Joseph (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- New Sunwolves coach Jamie Joseph sprung a few surprises Thursday when he named his side for the Super Rugby opener against the Canberra-based Brumbies this weekend at Tokyo's Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground.

    Michael Leitch, Harumichi Tatekawa and Akihito Yamada all failed to make the 23-man squad, while Kotaro Matsushima, Kenki Fukuoka and Yu Tamura are all out with knee injuries, as Joseph named nine new Sunwolves' caps in the starting XV, which will be led by scrumhalf Yutaka Nagare.

    "The omissions are a surprise for you guys as they have always been automatic choices," Joseph said. "But these are the players who have been training the best and mentally are in the best frame of mind."

    Keita Inagaki, Shota Horie and Koo Ji Won form an all Brave Blossoms front row with Sam Wykes and Grant Hattingh in the engine room and Kazuki Himeno, Lappies Labuschagne and Willie Britz in the back row.

    "The Brumbies are a set-piece team and create a lot of momentum from the set piece. So we have to deal with that and having tall men is crucial to that selection," Joseph said of Wykes and Hattingh, who are 1.97 meters and 2.01 meters, respectively.

    In the backs, Nagare links up with Robbie Robinson at halfback with Ryoto Nakamura and Timothy Lafaele in the midfield and Hosea Saumaki, Lomano Lemeki and Jason Emery forming an abrasive back three.

    "As long as we can create quality ball then those guys will come into play," he said of the strong-running wings. "One-on-one they have the X-factor and we like that."

    Among the replacements, history will be made if Jaba Bregvadze takes to the field as he will become the first Georgian to play Super Rugby.

    The 30-year-old hooker is joined on the bench by props Craig Millar and Asaeli Ai Valu, with James Moore and Ed Quirk providing the second and back row cover.

    Fumiaki Tanaka -- one of five players in the squad to have played in a Super Rugby championship-winning team -- joins up with fellow former Highlander Hayden Parker as the reserve halfbacks, with Sione Teaupa the back-up center.

    "Jaba has 50 test matches, Millar has four years of Super Rugby, Valu is a young up-and-coming tighthead, and James, Quirky, Fumi and Hayden have all played a lot of rugby," said Joseph. "So if the game is tight, we have the right sort of bench."

    As members of the Australian Conference in the new 15-team format, Joseph's team will take on the Rebels, Reds, Waratahs and Brumbies home-and-away. They will also play four sides from both South Africa and New Zealand. Six of their home games will be played in Tokyo with Hong Kong and Singapore also hosting a game apiece.


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