Shota Horie, aiming for his fourth Rugby World Cup, “retired for a day” in the past. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Shota Horie, aiming for his fourth Rugby World Cup, “retired for a day” in the past.

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Shota Horie of the Saitama Wild Knights scores a try in a League One match. He does the heavy lifting in the front row of the scrum, leading the eight forwards, but also has the legs to run nimbly (photo: Kyodo News).

The Rugby World Cup (hereinafter referred to as “World Cup”), which will start in France in September, is only four months away. Shota Horie, who has played in three World Cups for Japan’s national rugby team, is still at the forefront of the game at the age of 37. However, in the past, he has “retired for a day” due to mental and physical exhaustion.

The “ordeal” was more serious than the surgery that threatened his life as a player.

Shota Horie is 37 years old and hails from Osaka Prefecture. He plays in Japan Rugby League One as a member of the Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights.

Last season, he won the season MVP award, although he mainly played in the middle of the season. He is nicknamed “Rasbosu” for his successes. This season, he is in a similar position, and is determined to win his second consecutive league championship.

The road ahead was difficult.

Horie plays the hooker position. In the center of the front row of the scrum, he coordinates the eight forwards. He is able to pass and kick as well as the commanding players, and his footwork is also very skillful. However, because of his role in the team, fierce clashes are inevitable.

Since his first World Cup appearance in 2011, he has overworked his body at home and abroad as Japan’s national team has become stronger and stronger.

Thanks to this, the nerves in his neck were compressed. As a result, his grip strength dropped to less than 20 kilograms. He could no longer make “par” in rock-paper-scissors.

It was in 2003 that he decided to have neck surgery. It was just before his second World Cup.

I wonder if my rugby career is over.

With such anxiety, he underwent surgery, underwent rehabilitation, and stood on the field in England, where the World Cup was to be held.

In the World Cup, he won three games against South Africa, a team that had won the tournament before, and others. This created a rugby boom throughout Japan.

The next year was more of an ordeal than an opener.

He became the captain of the newly established Sunwolves team.

The Sunwolves were Japan’s entry into Super Rugby, an international league in the southern hemisphere. The purpose was to strengthen the Japanese national team.

In reality, however, there were several well-known players who turned down the offer. The team did not have the lineup it wanted.

Many of the players and coaches lined up were Japanese with little international experience and foreigners visiting Japan for the first time. It was not easy for the leader to bring them together. In the end, the team lost a series of games from the start of the season.

Horie, who describes himself as “a serious person,” agonized over the lack of results. He became frustrated even when he saw his colleagues smiling and joking with each other between practices in order to deepen their friendship.

He never scolded the players for their antics. He knew the situation of the members of the Sunwolves team: “We are a hodgepodge of players who have all worked hard to get together.

He was even more stressed out when he spewed out “positive” messages that were different from his own thoughts.

To begin with, Horie himself was not at full strength in his healing neck. Despite his efforts, including scoring the team’s first try on the opening day, he was not satisfied with his performance.

He said, “I kept playing matches without being able to do any training at all. At that time, I wanted to quit rugby…I didn’t want to be captain, and I didn’t want to play with Sunwolves. I didn’t want to be captain, and I didn’t want to play for the Sunwolves.

A scene from Japan’s national team training camp in 2022. Horie (second from right), with Leach Michael on the far left, is still a prominent figure (photo: Sankei Shimbun).

In order to break the vicious cycle, he decided to “retire for a day.

Based on the opinion of an acquaintance who had consulted with him, he left his hotel in Shinagawa, the Sunwolves’ domestic base.

Retire for a day. It was during the Sunwolves season. You were staying in Shinagawa at that time, right? (I ate whatever I wanted, drank whatever I wanted, and went to karaoke with my family.

Among rugby players who care about their bodies, Horie is perhaps the most stoic. He has been cutting back on eggs and wheat products since he turned 30 because he wants to eat foods that suit his constitution.

Even so, as the Super Rugby season got underway, he dared to eat his “favorite food. Even after the rough treatment that was meant to do more than refresh him, he had to return to his base and get back on the Sunwolves’ schedule once again in the morning.

No matter how “retired” I thought I was, I knew I could not escape the responsibility of playing for the team I had signed with.

I knew that, “Yes, I know. That’s why I have to face it. It might be tough, but rather than running away, I had to struggle. I knew I had no choice but to struggle, so I did.

It was not until the following year that they emerged from the tunnel.

Horie was relieved of his duties as captain of the Sunwolves and his domestic team, the Wild Knights, at the end of the 2004 season. At one time he was also the captain of the Japan national team, but he stepped away from that role after the spring of 2005.

I was able to focus more on myself. Together with his trainer, Yoshito Sato, who has been working with him since 2003, he focused on physical development. I became even stronger. At the World Cup in Japan in 2007, he was one of the best players on the team. The team was pleased to make the top eight for the first time.

In addition, from 2008 onward, he drastically reduced the number of days he spent with the national team. While many of the national team players were taking on the international stage, he continued to take lessons from Sato, who he says is “unique. Thanks to this, he became a warrior worthy of becoming the first MVP of League One while reducing the risk of injury.

The major thing was that the representative gave me time to myself,” said Sato. I’ve been able to train and perform on my own…”

His sights are set on his fourth World Cup. His next big tournament will be in France in September, and 34-year-old Leach Michael is the only teammate who has been with the national team since its first appearance at the World Cup. Barring any serious injury, both players are likely to be in the squad for the next tournament.

Horie does not take more than three days off so as not to slow down his movement. When he is not involved in team activities, he goes to Sato’s base in Kyoto.

All of this is for the World Cup, but he adds, “I don’t think we should look too far ahead.

It’s not good to look too far ahead.

From May 13, he will play for the Wild Knights in the League One playoff tournament. In the battle for a second straight domestic title, he vows to win every single game.

  • Interview and text Kazuya Mukai

    Sports writer born in 1982 in Toyama Prefecture. Graduated from Seijo University, Faculty of Arts and Letters, Department of Fine Arts, and has been working as a sports writer since 2006. He has been working as a sportswriter since 2006, mainly covering rugby. He is the author of "Sunwolves no Chosen, Super Rugby: Tsuyouru Wolves no Kiroku" (Sunwolves' Challenge, Super Rugby: Record of the Fighting Wolves) published by Futabasha.

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