Japan ups presence in Super Rugby

Japan ups presence in Super Rugby
The Brave Blossoms' Kotaro Matsushima (C, in red) will be playing with the Waratahs in Super Rugby 15.

A number of Japanese players will have additional international experience under their belts when the Rugby World Cup kicks off in September.

Six players from the Japanese national team will play in Super Rugby 15, one of the world's premier leagues, with the aim of improving their skills and boosting the national team's prospects for the World Cup to be hosted by England.

Super Rugby 15 consists of 15 teams from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, with the rosters filled with national-level players.

In 2013, Fumiaki Tanaka and Shota Horie, who both play for the Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan's Top League, broke the ice and became the first Japanese players to take part in the league.

Tanaka joined New Zealand's Highlanders, while Horie appeared for Australia's Rebels.

Tanaka has returned to the Highlanders, while the Toshiba Brave Lupus' Michael Leitch, also the captain of the Brave Blossoms, will play for New Zealand's Chiefs and the Suntory Sungoliath's Tui Hendrik for the Australian club Reds.

This year, three players will be making their debuts in Super Rugby 15, also with Australian teams.

Panasonic prop Keita Inagaki will join the Rebels, while Wild Knights teammate and winger Akihito Yamada will play for Western Force.

Kotaro Matsushima, who plays for Suntory, will join the 2014 champion Waratahs.

The league kicked off on Feb. 13, with some players waiting until the completion of the Japan Championship to head overseas.

Matsushima is enthusiastic about playing for the defending champions.

"There are many Wallabies [Australian national team members] on the team," he said. "I want to find out how players at each position train."

In addition to their improving skills, the influx of Japanese into the league has come through the efforts of Japanese national team head coach Eddie Jones.

Jones stressed that the players need to work hard to make use of the opportunity.

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