Former Kings star picked for Japan
Van der Walt’s versatility key in making squad
JAPAN have named former Southern Kings star Wimpie van der Walt in a 34-man squad for their upcoming matches against a World XV and tests against Australia, Tonga and France. Van der Walt was a standout player in 2013 when the Southern Kings drew record crowds to the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port ELizabeth in their debut Super Rugby season.
He signed for Japanese Top League side NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes at the end of the 2013 season and has made a big impression with his powerful play.
Thanks to his call-up, Van der Walt is now in line for his first cap for the Brave Blossoms, as Japan prepares to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Van der Walt, like Kazuki Himeno, can cover second and back row and Japan coach Jamie Joseph said versatility was a key component regarding selection.
“Outside the specialist positions of front row and halfback, I look for players who can play a number of positions,” the coach said.
“In a World Cup, you can suffer from injuries, so it is a real advantage and I have selected the team with that in mind.”
Joseph’s squad will gather in Munakata, Fukuoka Prefecture, on Sunday to prepare for the upcoming matches and to meet their new defence coach, John Plumtree.
“We have shown we can score tries against anyone, but defence has been a real challenge for Japanese teams against top sides,” Joseph said.
“John will improve our defensive game immensely.”
Japan play the World XV at Fukuoka’s Level 5 Stadium on October 28.
The Brave Blossoms then play Australia on November 4 at Yokohama’s Nissan Stadium – the first time the 2019 Rugby World Cup final venue will host a test match.
The national team then leave for France to play Tonga on November 18 at the Stade Ernest Wallon, Toulouse, and a week later, the French national side at the U Arena in Nanterre, in the western suburbs of Paris.
Toshiba Brave Lupus forward Michael Leitch will lead Japan in the four matches.
Leitch had made himself unavailable for national selection following the 2015 Rugby World Cup, but returned to the international fold in June and he would lead Japan to the next World Cup, Joseph said.
“He is our best leader,” the coach said.
“He had shown the players will follow him. He is comfortable with the role – on and off the field – and leads from the front.
“Leitch is exactly what we want leading into 2019.”
In 2013, Van der Walt played in the Southern Kings’ first Super Rugby match of the season – against the Western Force in Port Elizabeth.
He quickly established himself as a first team regular, starting 15 out of the 16 matches the Kings played that season.
Van der Walt scored his first try for the Southern Kings in their defeat to the Crusaders in Christchurch.
In October 2011, he joined Italian National Championship of Excellence team San Gregorio and made 16 appearances for them in the 2011–2012 season. They, however, finished bottom of the table and were relegated to Serie A1 in 2012-13.
ADAPTABLE PLAYER: Wimpie van der Walt during a Super Rugby match between the Southern Kings and the Highlanders at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in 2013. He is now in Japan’s squad