Utility backs Gerhard van den Heever and Shane Gates have been included in the Brave Blossoms’ extended training squad for the 2021 Test season.
Van den Heever and Gates have been plying their trade in Japan since 2016, meaning the pair qualify to play for Japan via World Rugby’s three-year residency rule.
Gates previously played for the EP-Southern Kings, while Van den Heever turned out for the Vodacom Bulls, Stormers, WP and Munster before heading to Japan.
Like so many other South Africans – capped and uncapped – playing in Japan, both these players have been in excellent form in the Top League so far this season.
Their inclusion brings the total of South African-born players in the 52-man squad to four, with Japan-capped Wimpie van der Walt and Lappies Labuschagne also making the cut.
The final 35-man squad for Japan’s mid-year Tests will be announced on 24 May.
Commenting on his squad selection, coach Jamie Joseph said: ‘It’s been a long time coming since our last squad announcement and I am very excited about our upcoming challenge against the British & 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.
‘Since the World Cup we’ve had players who have retired from international rugby or who have made themselves unavailable for selection for personal reasons. This creates an opportunity for new players to put their best foot forward and show they can play at international level.
‘The squad has a good balance of experience, as well as players with the potential to play international rugby. We will need to grow the depth of our team over the next two years and this tour to Scotland is just the starting point. The final rounds of Top League will show us who can play their best rugby under the pressure of knockout rugby. We will name the final squad of 35 players after the final matches in May.’