Four years after the national team's best-ever performance in the Rugby World Cup, the Brave Blossoms are busy getting ready for the 2023 global extravaganza.
With less than three months until the start of the 2023 Rugby World Cup on September 8 in France, time is of the essence for Japan head coach Jamie Joseph and the team's players.
"We've got just under 100 days to go before the World Cup. So this week is to reconnect as a team, start working on our strength and power and getting guys reconnected back to the way we do things as a team," Joseph said, according to the Japan Rugby Football Union's official website.
Joseph led the Brave Blossoms to the quarterfinals on home soil at the 2019 RWC, an electrifying performance that galvanized people of all ages in Japan.
Now he's back to work preparing objectives for a 36-player training camp squad along with an auxiliary 10-player squad in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture.
Training camp got underway on Monday, June 12 and runs through June 30.
The next few weeks will help Joseph and his coaching staff determine which players will be called on to compete in upcoming matches before the Rugby World Cup.
Upcoming Matches for the Brave Blossoms
First, the Brave Blossoms will participate in a pair of non-capped matches (not officially recognized as international matches) against the All Blacks XV on July 8 and 15 at Tokyo's Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium and Kumamoto's Egao Kenko Stadium, respectively. The All Blacks XV are New Zealand's second-tier national team.
Japan's training base shifts to Miyazaki from July 3 to August 3.
After that are three Pacific Nations Series test matches in as many weeks in three different cities: versus Samoa on July 22 (at Sapporo Dome), against Tonga on July 29 (at Hanazono Rugby Stadium in Higashiosaka, Osaka Prefecture) and versus Fiji on August 5 (at Chichibunomiya).
The Brave Blossoms' final competition before the Rugby World Cup is an August 26 warm-up match against Italy in Treviso.
Tone-Setting Players for Japan
Among the 36 players named to the training camp squad on May 24 are three players with 40 or more caps: prop Keita Inagaki (45), hooker Shota Horie (68) and back-row forward Michael Leitch (78).
Leitch served as team captain during the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Back-row forward Kazuki Himeno, a key player for Japan Rugby League One's Toyota Verblitz, said unity was an important trait of the Brave Blossoms' 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign.
"We managed to get results because we fought united in 2019," Himeno was quoted as saying by Kyodo News before the start of training camp. Then he added, "We have lots of new players, and whether we can see our members like that of a family will be important."
Himeno, who also played for Super Rugby's New Zealand-based Highlanders, added, "I need to serve the role of connecting new players and the veterans."
Japan plays its first 2023 Rugby World Cup match against Chile on September 10 in Toulouse.
Visit the JRFU website to see a position-by-position breakdown of the Brave Blossoms' training camp roster.
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Nadeshiko Japan's 23-Player Roster Announced for Women's World Cup
Manager Futoshi Ikeda revealed the makeup of the Japan women's soccer national team's 23-player roster for the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup on Tuesday, June 13.
The squad will include 14 players from Japan's fledgling WE League, which launched in 2021, and nine players employed by overseas clubs. (Take a look at the full roster on the Japan Football Association website.)
"The 23 players I am about to announce here will represent women's football in Japan," Ikeda told a news conference. "And I would like them to take to heart the thoughts of all those who have supported them, the thoughts of those who were not included in the squad, and fight with the responsibility, determination and joy of striving for the top of the world in a sport that they love."
Fourteen members of Nadeshiko Japan's World Cup squad will be first-time participants. Just one player from Japan's 2011 World Cup-winning squad, captain Saki Kumagai, 32, was named to this summer's team.
In June, Kumagai signed a three-year deal to play for Italian team AS Roma. She previously played for FC Bayern Munich.
Ikeda was appointed Nadeshiko Japan boss in October 2021. And he juggled senior national team duties with Under-20 national squad responsibilities through August 2022, when he guided Young Nadeshiko to a runner-up finish in the Under-20 Women's World Cup in France.
Three 19-year-old players ― Rion Ishikawa (Urawa Reds Ladies), Aoba Fujino (Tokyo Verdy Belleza) and Maika Hamano (Sweden's Hammarby IF on loan from Chelsea) ― are expected to make their World Cup debuts this summer.
A Look Ahead to the Women's World Cup
The Women's World Cup, which will be staged in Australia and New Zealand, kicks off on July 20.
In New Zealand, Japan's Group C first-round matches are against Zambia (July 22 in Hamilton), Costa Rica (July 26 in Dunedin) and Spain (July 31 in Wellington).
Before heading to New Zealand, Japan is scheduled to play Panama in a pre-World Cup friendly on July 14 in Sendai.
For additional insights about Japan's 2023 Women's World Cup squad from Ikeda, Japan Football Association President Kozo Tashima and former Nadeshiko Japan manager Norio Sasaki, now the chairman of the JFA Women's Committee, check out this article on the JFA website.
Samurai Blue Trounce El Salvador in Friendly
The Japan men's national team scored four first-half goals in a 6-0 rout of El Salvador in an international friendly on Thursday, June 15 in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture.
Samurai Blue, ranked 20th in the world, grabbed a 1-0 lead on Shogo Taniguchi's header in the first minute. Ayase Ueda, who led Belgian Pro League club Cercle Brugge with 22 goals this past season, doubled the lead in the fourth minute, converting a penalty. Takefusa Kubo (25th minute) and Ritsu Doan (44th) added goals before the break.
In the second half, Keito Nakamura and Kyogo Furuhashi, both of whom entered the game as second-half substitutes, scored in the 60th and 73rd minutes, respectively, at Toyota Stadium.
Kubo added two assists in a stellar performance.
El Salvador, which is ranked 75th, played nearly the entire match down a man after defender Ronald Rodriguez received a red card in the third minute.
Samurai Blue manager Hajime Moriyasu said his team approached the game with an upbeat mindset.
"Our positive play gave birth to a good flow for us," Moriyasu said, according to Kyodo News. "We played well right from the start, which led to this kind of win."
Up next: Japan faces Peru in another friendly on Tuesday evening, June 20 in Suita, Osaka Prefecture.
Ohtani Delivering Impressive Offensive Production for Angels
The Los Angeles Angels won three of four road games against the Texas Rangers on Monday through Thursday, June 12-15. Pitching in the series finale, Shohei Ohtani (6-2) worked six innings on the mound, allowing two runs and six hits to earn the win. He walked one and struck out three.
Ohtani blasted a two-run homer, his 22nd of the season, in the eighth to give his club a 5-2 lead. The Angels won 5-3, giving them nine victories in their last 11 games ― with more success a day later (see below).
Through games of June 16, Ohtani was tied for the MLB lead in home runs (22) with New York Mets slugger Pete Alonso. With seven homers in his last 12 games through the same day, Ohtani reminded everyone what he's capable of doing at the plate.
"Right now I'm seeing the ball really well and I feel really good in my setup, regardless of the results," Ohtani said, according to The Orange County Register. "Even though I'm getting good results, I think all that is coming from the setup and how I'm seeing the ball."
On Friday, Ohtani went 1-for-3 with a double in a 3-0 road victory over the Kansas City Royals. He got a hit for the 13th consecutive game. Then he extended his hitting streak to 14 games with his MLB-leading 23rd homer, a solo blast in the seventh inning and the 150th homer of his MLB career, on Saturday, June 17 against the Royals.
Yoshida Goes 4-for-4 in Rout of Yankees
Boston Red Sox slugger Masataka Yoshida had the first four-hit game of his MLB rookie season on Friday, June 16.
Yoshida smacked two doubles and had two singles in four at-bats in a 15-5 victory over the New York Yankees at Fenway Park.
The former Orix Buffaloes star raised his batting average to .309 by the end of the series opener.
Maeda Continues to Rehab From Arm Injury
Veteran right-hander Kenta Maeda made his latest rehab start for the Triple-A St. Paul Saints (Minnesota Twins affiliate) against the Louisville Bats on Friday.
Maeda pitched 4⅔ innings and allowed two hits and a run, walking four and striking out four in an 81-pitch outing in Louisville, Kentucky.
He has made four starts for the Saints after sustaining a right triceps strain while with the Twins in April. Maeda is 0-4 with a 9.00 ERA for the Twins in 2023.
Hawkinson Joins Sunrockers
The Sunrockers announced they signed the Washington State alum to a contract for the upcoming season on Monday, June 12.
Hawkinson, who became a naturalized Japanese citizen in February 2023, averaged 18.2 points (eighth-highest scoring average in the league) and 9.3 rebounds (ninth overall) this past season.
He began his pro career with the Fighting Eagles Nagoya in 2017 and played for the then-B.League second-division club until 2020. Then he joined the Brave Warriors.
Looking ahead to the next chapter of his pro career with the Sunrockers, Hawkinson said, "I want to do whatever I can do to help the team succeed, so please support me this season."
Hawkinson is the all-time leading rebounder in Washington State University men's basketball history. On Monday, June 12, the Seattle native met Ichiro Suzuki before the Seattle Mariners' home game against the Miami Marlins at T-Mobile Park.
Jackson Signs with Hannaryz
Charles Jackson, one of the B.League's premier rebounders, signed a contract with the Kyoto Hannaryz for the 2023-24 season, the Western Conference team said on Wednesday.
The 208-cm center averaged 15.9 points and 10.7 rebounds (fourth-best average in the league) in 2022-23, appearing in 59 games for the Yokohama B-Corsairs. Jackson previously suited up for the Hiroshima Dragonflies (2021-22) and Sunrockers Shibuya (2019-21).
"I'm really excited to play in such a great city, [and] I will give my all and I'm super excited to meet everyone," Jackson said in a team-issued statement.
Golden Kings Add Law to Roster
After helping the Chiba Jets post a 53-7 regular-season record and advance to the B.League Finals, American forward Vic Law is an offseason roster addition for the 2022-23 champion Ryukyu Golden Kings.
The Okinawa-based club revealed on Monday, June 12 that Law is on the squad for the upcoming season.
A Northwestern University product, Law averaged a team-best 17.1 points and 8.1 rebounds for the Jets. He scored 10 or more points in 51 games.
"I'm really excited to be joining the Kings and this amazing group of people, both the organization and the fan base," Law said in a statement.
Track and Field
Kitaguchi Enjoying Success in Current Outdoor Season
Haruka Kitaguchi, the women's javelin world bronze medalist in Eugene, Oregon, in 2022, has finished in the top four in all six meets she's entered this year.
A three-time Japan national champion, Kitaguchi won the World Diamond League's Paris competition on June 9 with a season-best throw of 65.09 meters.
She then finished runner-up in the javelin (59.69 meters) in the Kladno Throws and Kladno Memorial meet, a second-tier World Athletics Continental Tour competition, on June 13 in Kladno, Czech Republic.
But don't forget that the biggest meet jotted down on Kitaguchi's personal 2023 calendar is the World Athletics Championships, which will be held August 19-27 in Budapest.
Japanese Teen Grabs Men's All-Around Title at Asian Championships
Shinnosuke Oka captured the men's all-around title at the 2023 Asian Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Singapore on Thursday, June 15.
Oka finished with 86.065 points for the six disciplines (vault, parallel bars, pommel horse, horizontal bar, floor exercise and rings). Carlos Yulo of the Philippines was the runner-up (85.930 and Oka's Japanese teammate Takeru Kitazono claimed the bronze medal (85.431).
An Okayama native, Oka won the same event at the 2019 Junior World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Hungary.
In Singapore, Oka was pleased with his performance.
"I was able to show my ability as an all-rounder this time so I'm pretty satisfied with that," Oka was quoted as saying by The Straits Times, a Singapore newspaper.
Also at the Asian Championships, Japan earned the silver in the men's team event, receiving 256.694 points. In addition to Kitazono and Oka, Fumiya Sasaki, Ryota Tsumura and Motomu Yoshida participated in the event for Japan.
China won the gold (256.762). Kazakhstan claimed the bronze (246.828).
Furue in Contention for LPGA Tour Title
Ayaka Furue shot a 6-under 66 in the opening round of the Meijer LPGA Classic on Thursday, June 15. And she shared the lead with four others entering the second round.
Cheyenne Knight, Jennifer Kupcho, Frida Kinhult and Lindsey Weaver-Wright also carded 66s at Blythefield Country Club in Belmont, Michigan.
A day later, Furue carded a 67 in the second round and took a one-stroke lead over a quartet of golfers heading into the midway point of the tourney.
In the third round, Furue shot a 69 on Saturday and had a 14-under 202 through three rounds, one shot off the lead and tied with two others. South Korea's Amy Yang took a 15-under 201 into the final round.
Author: Ed Odeven