The Melbourne Rebels made a little bit of Super Rugby history yesterday when they named hooker Shota Horie and his fellow Japan international Male Sau in their matchday 23 for today’s clash with the New South Wales Waratahs.
Japan, which is to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup, is Asia’s rugby superpower and playing in its Top League has become a lucrative way for New Zealand and Australia internationals to end their careers.
The flow of players has not been all one way, though, and Horie and former Otago Highlanders scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka blazed the trail for Japan in Super Rugby when they made their debuts on the same evening last year.
New Zealand-born Sau joined the Rebels this season and looks set to make his debut in the southern hemisphere’s annual competition at the Sydney Football Stadium this weekend after being named on the Rebels’ bench with Horie.
“Injury curtailed his start at the club, but [Male] has slowly been gaining time on the training pitch, and increased confidence and knowledge,” Melbourne’s coach Tony McGahan said in a news release. “He is very keen to get some game time this weekend and show what he can do.”
“It’s a global game, and to have two international Japanese players in the same side here in Melbourne is certainly exciting for the Super Rugby competition and Rebels fans,” McGahan added.
Sau’s selection in New Zealand’s world champion under-20 side in 2009 might undermine his Japanese credentials for some, but ACT Brumbies center Harumichi Tatekawa’s lack of English language skills underline his.
Tatekawa was signed by the Brumbies on the recommendation of former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones and described by former Australia No. 8 and Kubota Spears coach Toutai Kefu as “the best Japanese player I’ve seen.”