Japanese rugby union star Ayumu Goromaru yesterday announced his retirement, admitting that he had struggled to deal with fame, but saying that he hoped he had helped transform his country’s rugby fortunes.
The 34-year-old, who will call time on his career after next year’s domestic season, gained cult status in Japan after leading the nation to a historic win over South Africa at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.
Goromaru’s rugged good looks and distinctive goal-kicking pose — bent slightly forward, with his fingers pressed together as if in contemplation — earned him a huge following.
A bronze statue and a “Master of Ninjas” title were among the honors bestowed on the fullback, who also had a giraffe named after him at a Japanese zoo.
He was once estimated to be the world’s richest player, but his career went into a tailspin as he flopped in stints with the Queensland Reds in Super Rugby and Toulon in France’s Top 14.
Goromaru last year missed out on a place in Japan’s Rugby World Cup squad — a tournament that saw the Brave Blossoms reach the last eight for the first time on home soil — but he said his experiences helped rugby gain a foothold in a country previously obsessed with baseball and soccer.
“It made me very uneasy to be the focus of everyone’s attention, but I felt it was my obligation to help spread the word about rugby in a country where it hadn’t been so popular,” Goromaru told a news conference hosted by his club side, Yamaha Jubilo.
“It was tough at first, but once I got my head around it, I realized I had been given a great opportunity. Even if there was just one person who got into rugby because of my pose, it would have made it all worthwhile,” he said.
Goromaru played a pivotal role in Japan’s “Miracle of Brighton” win over South Africa in 2015, where he scored 24 points in a 34-32 victory masterminded by current England coach Eddie Jones.
Goromaru described Jones as “someone who changed my life in a big way,” but he also urged his countrymen to show their former boss how far they have come when Japan face England at the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.
“Japan’s opponents have now been decided, and by a twist of fate they’re playing Eddie Jones’s England,” Goromaru said.
“It feels like destiny. Beating England, the birthplace of rugby, would increase rugby’s popularity even more in Japan, and I want the players to set that target and really go for it,” he said.
The Top League, Japan’s domestic competition, kicks off its season on Jan. 16 and runs until May.
Goromaru, who decided that he would retire at the age of 35 when he signed his first professional contract as a 22-year-old, will end his career with 57 caps for Japan.
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