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Japan’s Yamada eyes World Cup spot with French club stint

(Akihito Yamada’s last Japan appearance was a loss to Owen Farrell’s England last November. AFP-File / Adrian DENNIS)

PARIS, (AFP): Japan winger Akihito Yamada said on Monday he is still targeting a spot in his country’s Rugby World Cup squad after joining French club Lyon on-loan.

Yamada, 34, who started his nation’s shock victory over South Africa at the tournament four years ago, signed for the Top 14 outfit in August on a two-month temporary deal.

The 25-time international said he had spoken to the Brave Blossoms’ coaching staff, which is led by former All Black Jamie Joseph.

“I’m trying to get back into Japan’s squad for the World Cup. I just have to train hard every day,” he told AFP.

“I came here to get fit just in case of a World Cup call-up so I’m hopeful. If there’s an injury, I told them: ‘please call me up’,” he added.

The flyer said he hoped the last-minute win over the Springboks in 2015 would serve the current group well.

“It was a great experience as a rugby player. I was lucky to be there. For Japanese rugby it was a great day. We have to use all that experience for this year’s World Cup,” he said.

– Goromaru’s footsteps –

Yamada is the second Japanese international to join a French club ahead of the new Top 14 season after hooker Takeshi Hino was handed a trial by champions Toulouse.

The pair follow in the footsteps of former Japan backs in Ayumu Goromaru and Christian Loamanu in joining sides in the French top-flight.

“My friend Hino, I believe he can do very well in Toulouse. We chatted just before and he’s just training hard to get some gametime,” said Yamada, who plays NTT Communications Shining Arcs in Japan.

“It’s a great opportunity to make rugby bigger through Asia,” he added.

Yamada, who has scored 19 tries in his quarter of a century of Tests, said he would happily remain longer with Lyon, semi-finalists last season, if he wasn’t selected for the World Cup.

“I would like to stay here for longer in the season, because the Japanese season starts in January 2020, so there’s plenty of time,” he said.

“I would like to get into French rugby and also French culture,” he added.

Japan’s last World Cup warm-up is against South Africa on September 6 and head coach Joseph will announce his final squad following the game in Kumagaya.

The hosts start their campaign against Russia on September 20 before facing Ireland, Samoa and Scotland in their pool matches.

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