Japan’s national rugby team, Ryudai, has been winning since its university days. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Japan’s national rugby team, Ryudai, has been winning since its university days.

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Japan lost 13-52 to England last November, but this is what Nagare envisions for the match against England on September 18.

Japan’s national rugby team, which created a frenzy in the Japanese archipelago by becoming the first team in history to advance to the finals of the World Cup in Japan in 2007, got off to a good start again in France four years later, winning its first match on September 10, 42-12 over Chile, the winner of the US regional qualifying tournament. The team scored six tries with their characteristic speedy attack and earned five points with a bonus point (one point awarded for scoring four tries).

After struggling in the preliminaries in July and August with one win and five losses in six matches, Japan’s players performed as if they were a different team going into the World Cup tournament. Among them, scrum half (SH) Yutaka Nagare has made his presence felt.

He was appointed vice-captain of Japan’s World Cup squad for this year’s World Cup, leading the team along with captain Kazuki Himeno. In the first match against Chile, he started as the game captain after HIMENO missed the match due to calf discomfort. He played a major role in the first match under pressure, but despite the pressure, he controlled the game with his quick and fluid ball handling and highly accurate kicking, and assisted on three tries to lead the team to a comfortable victory.

Nagare, 31, is now at the peak of his maturity, playing in his second World Cup, following the last one. The driving force behind his success is his extraordinary ambition and competitive spirit. Keisuke Sawaki, then coach of Suntory Sangorias (now coach of the Yokohama Canon Eagles), who named Nagare, in his second year with the team, as captain in the 2004-’17 season, when the team won its first Top League title in four seasons, once said of his decision to appoint Nagare as captain , “I always give 100 percent in training, and I am always willing to work hard. I always give 100 percent in training. I can feel that he wants to be better than anyone else.

No matter how strong the opponent, no matter how tough the situation, there is no game that can be lost because it is a competition. The will of such a determined leader pulls the team to the heights they are aiming for. This is the reason why Nagare has won numerous honors with Teikyo University, Suntory, and the Japan national team.

Naoto Saito, who competes with Nagare for the number 9 spot in the Japan national team, is also Nagare’s teammate at Suntory. 5 years younger than Nagare, Saito describes his rival as “having something I don’t have and being good at everything he does,” while at practice they always engage in tense battles, building a tight relationship that helps them to improve each other. This is also a product of Nagare’s character, and his influence on the team is significant.

This year marks his seventh season with the national team, having made his debut in his first test match (an official international match between national teams) against South Korea in 2005. During that time, he has faced no small number of difficulties.

A scene from the training camp of the Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath team. The team was worried about corona infection, so they were very careful about even their meals.

After the highly successful ’19 World Cup, the team’s schedule of international matches was cancelled one after another due to the pandemic of the new coronavirus, and the team temporarily withdrew from national team activities in ’21, losing motivation. He returned to the national team in the fall of the same year and showed he was still going strong, but the following year, 2010, he was appointed co-captain with hooker Atsushi Sakate, but on the first day of the Miyazaki training camp in June, he suddenly fell ill and was forced to leave the team . He spent a difficult period of time in the hospital , “almost unable to do anything for about a month and a half.

After overcoming such hardships, Nagare made a fresh start, and at a training camp in Beppu in September 2010, he announced his intention to retire from the national team after the 2011 World Cup. Considering his preparation for his post-playing career, he decided to finish all out at the tournament in France.

He has a strong image as a genuine leader with a strong mentality, but in fact he has a sensitive and caring side. In his first year as captain of Suntory, he tried to lead the others and ended up doing various things half-heartedly . At the press conference held on August 15 to announce the members of Japan’s World Cup team, he described Kazuki Himeno, two years his junior at Teikyo University and the new captain, as “unreliable, which made the coach laugh . I want to help him relax so that he doesn’t overthink things and we can both be our own person.

At the press conference, Nagare, who has accumulated tough experience in the world of tough competition and has reached a point of fulfillment, emphatically declared his goal for this World Cup: “I think the fans are not realistic.

I think the fans think it is not realistic. But we believe we can do it. I don’t think anyone thought we could beat Ireland in 19 years, and I don’t think anyone imagined we would beat Scotland and go to the last eight with all the wins. But we are ready to do it. We’ll see.”

The summit of the world’s highest peak is still high. But we have taken steps to get there. I feel that we are steadily getting closer.

  • Interview and text Mitsunobu Naoe

    Born in Kumamoto City in 1975. Graduated from the Faculty of Commerce at Waseda University after attending Kumamoto Prefectural High School. He started playing rugby at Kumamoto High School and participated in the Flower Garden in his junior year. He is currently working as a freelance reporter mainly for Rugby Magazine. Author of "Waseda Rugby: Struggle for Evolution" (Kodansha)

  • PHOTO Kyodo News (1st photo), courtesy of Tokyo Suntory Sangoliath (2nd photo)

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