Shota Horie returns to the national team after one game in the first round of the Ligue 1 tournament. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Shota Horie returns to the national team after one game in the first round of the Ligue 1 tournament.

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With just over a year and three months to go until the Rugby World Cup in France in 2023, Japan’s 34-member Rugby national team was announced on May 31 for the June-July Test matches.

While the 2019 World Cup squad, including SO Yu Tamura and CTB Raffaele Timothy, were not selected to start with the “second team,” the 36-year-old veteran has returned to the Brave Blossoms. That is HO Shota Horie (Saitama Wild Knights), who was also the first League MVP of League One, which began this season.

Horie’s dreadlocks, braided by his wife, and the way he plays with his shorts woven in have become his trademark. He lost the first two games of the season due to the Corona disaster, but in the Wild Knights’ run to the top of the standings with 16 consecutive wins, he started only one game. In the rest of the games, he started from the middle of the second half wearing the number “16,” but he made his presence felt by being called “the rascals,” “the guardian god,” and “the tactical Horie” by the fans.

And Horie, who contributed greatly to the Wild Knights’ League One championship, was also selected as one of the “Best 15” voted by the coaches, captains, media, and fans with a full vote (12p), and won the “Player of the Year” award for the player the players disliked playing against, and the league MVP and individual “triple crown”.

Horie said, “I think it was because HO Sakate (Atsushi), who is out at the start, was consistent and always gave good performances, which led to my good play in the second half. 36 years old, I am still happy to receive an individual award. I think I have a few years left in my rugby career, but until the end, without looking at the ceiling, I want to look at myself to see how far I can grow and do my best firmly every day,” he broke off.

Compared to the other players selected for the Japan team this time, Horie has played fewer games, but when HC Joseph actually asked him about Horie, he replied, “Horie is a really high quality player. He has had a great season, with a consistency that belies his age. Rugby has been changing rapidly since I became the leader of the Japanese national team, and in order to compete with strong teams such as England, Argentina, and South Africa (the game ends in 80 minutes), we need consistent performances that can fight until the 84th or 85th minute. In this sense, Horie’s experience is a link between young players and the international level, and I have high expectations for his leadership.

With the national squad increasing from 31 to 33 players starting at the 2023 World Cup in France, Horie’s presence and experience will be indispensable for a team aiming for the top eight or better, as he has played in the past three World Cups and boasts 66 caps.

Yuichiro Fujii, the national team director in charge of strengthening the 15-man men’s national team, said, “He is a little bit different. He is super special. Jamie (Joseph, HC) has always been concerned about him.

On May 29, just after winning the first League One championship. Horie commemorated with trainer Yoshito Sato, a former member of Japan’s beach soccer team, with whom he has worked since 2015 (photo by Takehito Saito).

Horie was selected for Japan’s national team in 2010, and over the course of nearly 10 long years of “three legs”-the Wild Knights, Super Rugby, and Japan’s national team-Horie has not only battled the world, but also his own injuries, including surgery on his neck before the 2015 World Cup and on the back of his right foot before the 2019 World Cup. He has also battled injuries. At 180 cm in height and 104 kg in weight, he has overworked his body, which is not as large as those of other FW players around the world, to the point where he has paid the price.

Therefore, after the 2019 World Cup, Horie said, “I always thought about Japan, but now I don’t. (HC Joseph) will use young players more and more, and I myself am not sure if I can go to the Japan national team and fight. …… I have kept a certain distance from the Japan national team, saying, “I still have doubts in my mind.

However, the selectors’ trust in Horie has never wavered, even when he has been away from the national team. The two parties kept in constant contact, checking on his condition and confirming when he would be ready to return to the national team.

Therefore, before the season began, Horie’s words, “I’m ready! meant that he was physically and mentally ready to return to the national team. When we asked Horie about the national team, he replied, “I think I need to go back at least once (this year). (Whether or not I can return to the national team) is a ‘fistfight’ with Mr. Fujii. (Laughs).” And now, he has returned to the national team for the first time since the 2019 World Cup.

I want to play until I am 40! After undergoing neck surgery in 2015, Horie has been undergoing a physical transformation under the training of Yoshito Sato, a former beach soccer trainer of the Japanese national team nicknamed “God Hand,” whom he met at a training camp for the national team. Every summer, he goes on a month-long training camp, and for the past several years, he has never missed more than three days of training, continuing to work through the menu created by Sato’s trainer.

Horie says, “(Thanks to Sato’s trainer), my body feels better than it did when I was 30! Every year, every year, the situation seems to be at its best now. (In recent years), I have been focusing on myself because I have not been joining the Japan national team, so I can move more easily and my contact strength has improved. My impact when tackling and the speed with which I enter the jackal has improved since the season,” he said, adding that even now, at age 36, he is aware of his own growth and has turned it into joy and motivation.

He used to say that he wanted to make the 2019 World Cup the culmination of his career, but now that his condition and performance have improved, he says, “The World Cup is a special place that every player wants to be. I always want to be ready to play, and since it is Jamie [Joseph, HC] who chooses me, if he thinks I’m good enough, I’ll do my best. Of course, if I can get out, I want to improve on the result from the last time (top 8),” he said enthusiastically.

The first line hooker is a position that requires a lot of physical exertion not only in set plays such as scrums and lineouts, but also in battles for the ball. Like the Wild Knights, Japan’s national team is likely to see a “winning formula” with Sakate, the newly appointed co-captain, starting and Horie finishing the match.

Horie (center) with his MVP and Best Fifteen souvenirs. Keita Inagaki on the right and WTB Koroimbete on the left (Photo: AFLO)
2019, against Scotland, the team that made it to the last eight. The running ability of the players who faithfully supported the players who scored tries was outstanding (Photo: Afro)
  • Interview, text, and photos Kenji Saito

    Born in 1975. He is a sportswriter 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.

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