For­mer Kings star picked for Ja­pan

Van der Walt’s ver­sa­til­ity key in mak­ing squad

The Herald (South Africa) - - SPORT - Ge­orge By­ron by­[email protected]­soblack­star.co.za

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.

Pic­ture: GALLO IMAGES/RICHARD HUGGARD

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

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