4 SA-born players named in Japan rugby squad

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Sunwolves wing Gerhard van den Heever on the charge against the Stormers in 2019. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)
Sunwolves wing Gerhard van den Heever on the charge against the Stormers in 2019. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)

Four South African-born players have been named in Japan's extended training squad ahead of the 2021 Test season.

Loose forwards Wimpie van der Walt and Lappies Labuschagne are already stalwarts, while utility backs Gerhard van den Heever and Shane Gates are newcomers in the 52-man squad.

Van den Heever and Gates have plied their trade in Japan since 2016, which means they qualify for the Brave Blossoms via World Rugby's residency rule.

Gates previously played flyhalf and centre for the Southern Kings, while Van den Heever represented the Bulls, Stormers and Munster mainly as a winger.

Van der Walt boasts 16 Test caps and Labuschange eight.

Japan head coach Jamie Joseph commented: "It's been a long time coming since our last squad announcement and I am very excited about our upcoming challenge against the British and Irish Lions.

"It will be a very special occasion for the team to play the Lions for the first time ever. Announcing this squad is the first step in our preparation. The 2021 Top League has produced some great team performances and the competition between the teams is a lot closer than past years which is great for the development of the game in Japan."

The final 35-man squad for Japan's mid-year Tests will be announced on 24 May.

The Brave Blossoms will play a warm-up match at ECOPA Stadium in Shizuoka on 12 June - against a yet to be determined opponent.

They are then scheduled to fly to Scotland on 16 June to take on the British & Irish Lions at Murrayfield in Edinburgh on 26 June.

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