Leitch to lead Japan against Italy in 1st rugby test

TOKYO — Flanker Michael Leitch will lead an experienced Japan lineup in the first of two rugby tests against Italy.

Leitch, in his 51st test, leads a team on Saturday which will have 13 members of Super Rugby's Sunwolves in the starting lineup and a further seven on the bench. The New Zealand-born veteran also led Japan in its previous meeting with Italy four years ago.

Sunwolves and former Highlanders scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka is the most-capped member of the team with 64 test appearances. He combines with flyhalf Yu Tamura, in his 48th test, in a seasoned halves pairing.

The Sunwolves' South Korea-born prop Ji-Won Koo was selected in the starting lineup to make his test debut.

Hooker and captain Leonardo Ghiraldini, in his 95th test, and lock Alessandro Zanni, in his 105th, provide the solid core of the Italy team selected for the match.

Prop Tiziano Pasquali will make his starting debut after playing his first seven tests off the bench, and uncapped frontrower Giosuè Zilocchi has been named among the reserves.

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Squads:

Japan: Kotaru Matsushima, Lomano Lemeki, Will Tupou, Timothy Lafaele, Kenki Fukuoka, Yu Tamura, Fumiaki Tanaka; Amanaki Mafi, Michael Leitch (captain), Kazuki Himeno, Samuela Anise, Wimpie Van Der Walt, Ji-Won Koo, Shota Horie, Keita Inagaki. Reserves: Yusuke Niwai, Shintaro Ishihara, Takuma Asahara, Uwe Helu, Yoshitaka Tokunaga, Yutaka Nagare, Rikiya Matsuda, Ryoto Nakamura.

Italy: Matteo Minozzi, Tommaso Benevenuti, Michele Campagnaro, Tommaso Castello, Mattia Bellini, Tommaso Allan, Marcello Violi; Abraham Steyn, Giovanni Licata, Sebastian Negri, Dean Budd, Alessandro Zanni, Tiziano Pasquali, Leonardo Ghiraldini (captain), Andrea Lovotti. Reserves: Luca Bigi, Federico Zani, Giosue Zilocchi, George Biagi, Marco Fuser, Jake Polledri, Tito Tebaldi, Jayden Hayward.

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