The footsteps of a “super unknown” Kagoshima University graduate who was selected as a candidate for the national rugby team for the first time
Will Shunta Nakao be able to play an active role in the League One semifinal match on the 21st?
He worked part-time to become a teacher…
On May 9, the Japanese men’s national rugby team candidates for the 2022 season were announced, and the name “Kagoshima University” stood out among a list that included not only famous schools in the Kanto and Kansai regions but also top teams from overseas. The name of Shunta Nakao, a graduate of the Kagoshima University Faculty of Education, was among them.
He is 27 years old and a member of the Toshiba BlazBlue Pass, which made the playoffs in the Japan Rugby League One, Japan’s top league, which began in January of this year. 176 cm, 86 kg, he plays standoff and inside center to control the game. He has played in 14 of the 15 league games this season, starting in 13 of them. He has put the team on the upswing with his precise decision-making, playmaking using a variety of skills, and physical tackling.
Most of the players who play in Division 1, the top category in League One, are elites who have proven themselves as mainstays at strong schools in urban areas. Graduates from regional universities are in the minority, and even more so when it comes to the Japan national team, they are extremely rare. At this point, they are still candidates for the national team, but even if they are not supporters of Bray Blue Pass, their future development will be interesting to watch.
The reason why he went from Nagasaki Hokuyodai High School, one of the few public universities in Japan that is now a national powerhouse, to a difficult national university was to become a teacher. The Kagoshima University Rugby Club, a member of the Kyushu Student League, has about 40 members. Some of them were beginners who started playing the sport in earnest at the university.
In the spring of his senior year, Nakao, a well-known and talented player in a regional league that was rarely in the spotlight, was working part-time at a hamburger store and a convenience store while aiming to pass the teacher recruitment exam. In a match against Doshisha University as a member of the Kyushu student team, the number 10 player showed an outstanding performance. His performance caught the eye of a recruiter for an adult team, and “Nakao of Shika University” quickly became widely known.
From there, Nakao’s entry into the Toshiba team was also aided by his mentor from his days at Nagasaki Hokuyodai, coach Hidetaka Shinagawa, who himself once played for the Toshiba team. At first, Nakao’s mind was firmly set on teaching, but when Shinagawa, consulted by an old acquaintance of his at Toshiba, informed him of the team’s intention to acquire him, his heart was moved.
He had no intention of playing for a lower division team, but when I asked him, “What if it was Toshiba?” He said, ‘I would be honored to be asked by such a team, and I would seriously consider it. After that, the conversation proceeded without a hitch.
Soon after, he received a call from a Toshiba staff member and decided to move to Tokyo. He declined to take the Nagasaki Prefecture’s teacher recruitment examination, which he had applied for.
A promising future as a teacher
In fact, when he entered university, Coach Shinagawa wanted Nakao to go to a strong school in the Kanto area. However, he had no intention of doing so, and instead decided to enter the Faculty of Education at Kagoshima University, where his two older brothers had also gone on to study, in order to obtain a teaching license.
At that time, I probably didn’t have much of a mindset of aiming for the top in rugby,” he said. I had always had high academic ability, and I never thought of going to a university with a recommendation in rugby,” said Shinagawa.
What triggered a change in his mindset was the prefectural qualifying final for the national tournament in the fall. Captain Nakao missed an easily placed goal kick in that game, and the team lost by two points and missed the Hanazono tournament. Coach Shinagawa recalls, “We talked about how that frustration made him want to play rugby again.
In his junior and senior years, he led the team to a second consecutive runner-up finish in the national inter-district university tournament, contested by representative schools from regional leagues, and in the fall of his senior year, as the mainstay of the Kagoshima prefectural team, he led the team to a second place finish in the National Athletic Meet. In the fall of his senior year, he was the mainstay of the Kagoshima prefectural team that won second place in the national tournament. In the fall of his senior year, he was the mainstay of the Kagoshima prefectural team, leading them to a second place finish in the national tournament.
While a university student, he also obtained referee certification. When he took the exam to become a teacher, there were many enthusiastic requests for him to stay in Kagoshima instead of returning to his hometown Nagasaki.
Coach Shinagawa, who is also a senior at Nagasaki Hokuyodai and shares the same No. 10 and No. 12 positions, describes Nakao’s appeal as a player.
He doesn’t have outstanding speed or a special weapon that blows opponents away for gains, but he understands rugby very well. He is quick-witted and very clever. I think his strength is that he can also play defense well. The timing was just right, with Toshiba’s good performance this season. I am looking forward to seeing how well he can do in the national team.
As an athlete, he is at the peak of his career. If he can use this opportunity to leave a strong impression on the coaches of the national team, his path to next year’s Rugby World Cup in France will be paved at once. The sight of him standing on the field in the cherry blossom jersey will make his teammates, who once chased the oval ball in Kagoshima and cried and laughed together, proud.
Interview and text： Mitsunobu Naoe
Born in Kumamoto City in 1975. After graduating from Kumamoto Prefectural High School, he went on to graduate from the School of Commerce at Waseda University. 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)