Rikishi’s Son and Rugby Ace Candidate Kohki Takeyama Walks the “Path of a Star
His father is a former makushita, Hoshitsuru-o.
From the Wild Knights to the ace in the cherry blossom jersey – 25-year-old WTB Kohki Takeyama is about to take off in a big way.
The “NTT Japan Rugby League One” of rugby started under a new guise this season. The playoffs for the top four teams competing to become the first Division 1 champions will begin on May 21 and 22, and the winner will be decided on May 29 at the National Stadium in Tokyo.
On May 22, the Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights (Saitama WK), last season’s champions and second in the league, and Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo Bay, third in the league, will clash. The Wild Knights, who were the leading favorites to win the championship, had their first two games cancelled due to corona and were treated as losses, but then went on a 14-game winning streak to advance to the playoffs.
The number “14” of the Wild Knights, a team that is known for its solid defense and quick attack, has been carried for the past three years by Takeyama, a fresh, handsome, 175 cm tall WTB (wing) player known as a flamboyant player.
Two seasons ago, when the Top League was suspended due to the new coronavirus, Takeyama scored 7 tries as a rookie, and last season he scored 6 tries and showed his presence as a finisher along with WTB Kenju Fukuoka, winning the rookie of the year award. However, he was not selected for the Japan national team last season.
This season, with WTB Kenju Fukuoka leaving to become a doctor, the Wild Knights had high expectations for Takeyama. Takeyama himself said, “I have to raise the level of the team so that people will not say that we have become weaker with Kenki gone. I want to fill the hole left by Kenju by showing off my personal strengths in different ways, such as kicking.
Unlike the Top League, League One matches will be played between hosts and visitors, and the Wild Knights will be based at the Kumagaya Rugby Ground in Saitama, which was also the site of the World Cup. Takeyama showed his performance as he had said, “I want to score tries so as not to disappoint the fans who came to cheer me on,” and in the 13 games he scored 10 tries, second only to the league leader (11 tries), and tied for third place in the try standings.
Takeyama’s strengths lie in his “sense for scoring tries” and his good decision-making skills. He is aggressive with the ball and has a good sense of space, which allows him to score tries when he gets the ball in areas where the opposing defense is thin and few. He is also able to play to the opposition’s displeasure by kicking to regain possession when there is space behind him, as he did in the middle of the game when he played as a commanding presence.
Despite this attacking sense, he has never been a member of either Japan’s 15-man or 7-man national teams. This was because he still had problems in tackling, jacking the ball away from opponents in dense battles, catching high balls, and other defensive plays.
However, on May 7, in the game against S Tokyo Bay, a prelude to the semifinals to be held this weekend, there was a play that showed the evolution of Takeyama’s game. After kicking a kick of his own, the ball went to the opponent, but he jacked the ball back, resulting in a try for his side. The Wild Knights traditionally have a culture of “if a player can’t tackle, he can’t play the game,” and year after year, in addition to his natural attacking ability, Takeyama has been improving his tackling and high ball catching skills.
Takeyama, whose father was Kazuhiko Hoshi Tsuruo (Takeyama), a sumo wrestler who played in the makushita division, grew up in Nara Prefecture and began playing rugby at the age of 3 at the Koryo Boys Rugby Club on the advice of his kindergarten teacher. He was also selected for the national junior rugby tournament as a SH (scrum half) at Kawai No. 2 Junior High School.
In high school, he was invited to play at a strong high school in Osaka, but he went to a strong local public school because Hiroyuki Takeda, the famous coach of Nara’s Gosho Jitsugyo, was the only one who bowed down and invited him to join the team.
In his first year of high school, Takeyama reached the final of the national high school rugby tournament called “Hanazono,” but lost to Jyosho Gakuen (Osaka). In his third year of high school, despite being a public high school, Takeyama finished second in the national seven-man rugby tournament, Hanazono. In particular, in the third round of the Hanazono tournament against Keio High School, he scored a one-handed comeback try with a gut-punch in the loss time as snow began to fall. He was said to have been upset with coach Takeda for that, but it became one of the “most memorable tries” for both Takeyama and coach Takeda.
However, Takeyama was unable to become Japan’s number one in high school, and after losing to Higashi Fukuoka in the final of the Hanazono tournament, he said, “At Teikyo University (where I will go on to university), I will win 10 consecutive championships (winning from my first year to my fourth year)! I will win 10 consecutive championships!
At Teikyo University, which had won 6 consecutive championships at the time of his enrollment, he scored many tries from his first year, mainly as a WTB, and contributed greatly to the 7 to 9 consecutive university championships. In his freshman year, he was ranked second in the try ranking with 18 tries in the intercollegiate competition, and later in the university championships, he scored 12 tries, the most in his career, and won the top position in Japan for the first time since his junior high school years. However, in his senior year, when he became vice captain and played FB, the team lost to Tenri University in the semifinals and failed to win its 10th consecutive championship.
In any case, Takeyama has continued to run as one of the top runners of his generation. However, he was never selected for the high school national team, and he also missed out on winning his 10th consecutive championship at Teikyo University, which would have been a milestone if he had won the Japanese university championship in his senior year.
He has never been able to become a star, but he has learned to play with a muddy touch, as he showed in the aforementioned May 7 game against Tokyo Bay, and was selected for the first time in the 63 candidates for Japan’s national team announced two days later. He has worked hard to qualify as a star.
If Takeyama can play his part in the playoffs and score a try to help the Wild Knights to their first League One victory, he will make a big impression on national team coach Jamie Joseph and his teammates.
I want to be able to wear the national team jersey and compete with the world,” Takeyama said.
Can Takeyama get his first cap in June and use it as a stepping stone to the World Cup in France next year?
Interview, text, and photos： Kenji Saito
Born in 1975. He is a sports writer who covers and writes for magazines and websites, focusing on rugby and soccer. He has covered the World Cup for five consecutive years until the 2019 tournament. He covered all 57 matches of the last World Cup, when Japan was coached by Eddie Jones. His recent books include "Rugby Language Dictionary" (Seibundo Shinkosha) and "Introduction to Rugby Spectatorship" (Kairyusha). In his high school days, he played FB, which is good at tackling.