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Rugby: South Africa star De Klerk looks to make strong start in Japan

South Africa rugby scrum-half Faf de Klerk is pictured at Yokohama Canon Eagles' training base in Machida, western Tokyo, on Dec. 1, 2022. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Faf de Klerk, who helped South Africa win the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, hurt his left ankle in the Springboks' recent match against England but wants to recover in time for his new Yokohama-based club's season opener on Dec. 18.

    The 31-year-old scrum-half has trained separately from Yokohama Canon Eagles teammates with a swollen ankle since he arrived in Japan this past Monday.

    "I really want to play," De Klerk said Thursday at the Eagles' training base in Machida, western Tokyo, referring to their 2022-2023 League One season-opening match at home to Kobelco Kobe Steelers. "I don't like to, especially coming to the new club, be just sitting and watching."

    "I'm going to push as much as I can to make sure my ankle is good, so I can be ready for selection for the first game."

    De Klerk has joined fellow Springbok Jesse Kriel at the Eagles, who finished sixth in League One's 12-team Division 1 last season.

    He expects a tough competition as many world-famous rugby players have come to Japan to play.

    "I think the league is extremely strong. A lot of my friends from South Africa...they've told me it's really a tough league to play in," De Klerk said. "The standard is really high, so I'm looking forward to playing against the best guys in the world."

    He also talked about South Africa's current form and preparation for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France, citing the team's growing depth with young players.

    "We are in a very good spot at the moment," De Klerk said. "We showed we can beat France. We can beat Ireland. We are in a much better spot than we were in 2018 before the 2019 World Cup, so hopefully, we can just build on this year."

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