AMANAKI MAFI is likely to be free to play for Japan at the Rugby World Cup next month after the date of his trial on a charge of assaulting a former team-mate was set for the new year. The 29-year-old was charged with intent to injure former Melbourne Rebels colleague Lopeti Timani after night drinking together following a Super Rugby game against the Highlanders at Dunedin, New Zealand, in July 2018.
Mafi, who spent the night in custody, has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Both players were fined A$15,000 (£8,445) by the Rebels after the incident for breaching team protocols. They both left for new clubs at the end of the 2018 season.
The back-row was a real handful when Scotland faced Japan in the pool stage of the 2015 World Cup, scoring one try and making several more serious dents with his hard-running game. He also played in both games during Scotland’s 2016 summer tour of Japan.
Gregor Townsend‘s team will know that they will have their work cut-out in defence if he is involved in what is shaping up to be a qualification decider between Scotland and Japan in the final pool game of this year’s competition.
If convicted Mafi, who was not required to attend Wednesday’s hearing, could face a maximum of five years in jail.
Japan head coach Jamie Joseph has yet to name his 31-man World Cup squad, but Mafi played at No. 8 in two of Japan’s recent tests in the Pacific Nations Cup. The Japan Rugby Union has indicated Mafi will continue to be considered for selection pending the outcome of the trial.
Mafi, who was born in Tonga, made four appearances for Japan in the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England, including the upset victory over two-time champion South Africa.