Koutaro Matsushima, the WTB/FB who was dubbed the “Ferrari” after scoring a hat trick in the opening game of the Rugby World Cup in Japan two years ago, has been left out of Japan’s October squad.
He is expected to join the national team in Europe for three test matches in November. Since last summer, he has been playing for Clermont Auvergne, one of the powerhouses of the French TOP14 league, and is the only “foreigner” in the world of rugby who has found enjoyment off the pitch as well.
Matsushima, who returned to Japan after a long absence from Europe, said, “It’s been a long time since I was able to take a complete break from rugby. I was injured, but I think that was for the best,” he said. He spent six to seven weeks off this summer in Japan, not touching the ball at all, and was refreshed.
He also launched his own clothing brand called “MK,” which was self-produced from scratch by “Koutaro Matsushima, who knows the world, to create items that are not only functional and fit for any environment, but also items that you want to wear at all times. He also launched his own clothing brand, MK.
Matsushima, who has been playing overseas for a long time, keeps a close watch on her weight and often cooks her own food, bought a device that can boil pasta in a microwave oven and brought it to France.
“I bought some simple cooking utensils at a 100-yen store in Japan that I could put in the microwave and pasta would be ready in no time, and brought them with me. Washing the frying pan is a hassle, so I thought something easier would be good.
Last season, Matsushima played as a central figure in the Clermont team, scoring 11 tries in 27 games, helping the team to the last eight of the European Cup and becoming the first Japanese player to be nominated for the European Player of the Year.
“I didn’t think I’d play 27 games, but I was planning to play 20, so it’s been a good experience. At first I had a hard time with the physicality of the game, but after playing so many games, the physicality gap has narrowed.
Last season, in order to cope with the French league, which has a higher physical level than the Japanese top league, Matsushima increased his weight by 6-7kg to 88kg, saying, “As a result of building up my body to withstand my opponent, I naturally became bigger. His upper body was clearly bigger than before. However, he is now keeping his weight at 85kg to keep a balance between his speed and physicality, which are his weapons.
However, he suffered injuries to his left knee and right ankle in the Japan national team game, and although he was a little late to the game, he made his first appearance of the season in the No. 15 position in the third game against La Rochelle on September 18, contributing to the 23-22 victory. Matsushima said, “I’m not 100% sure where I got injured, and it still hurts a little bit, but the team has lost two games in a row, so I came on relatively early. First of all, I’m relieved to have won at home! I’m relieved to have won at home!
Last season, due to the effects of the coronary heart disease, he said that he hadn’t been able to enjoy the city of Clermont because he had to go back and forth between his house and the training ground, but now many people are not wearing masks and restaurants are open as usual.
Unlike last season, this season’s French league has been playing games with spectators from the opening game, and Matsushima, who played in a home game attended by 15,971 enthusiastic fans known as the “Yellow Army,” said, “For the first time in a long time, I played a game with a lot of fans who couldn’t hear me. I got the impression that it’s totally different when there are no fans, and when it’s tough, cheering gives me a big boost! I was very impressed by the difference between the two games.
Looking ahead to the challenge of the French League, now in its second season, Matsushima said, “As a team, our goal is to win the championship. As an individual, I want to increase the number of line breaks from last season,” he said, patting his arm.
Aside from Matsushima, no other Japanese national team players have played overseas. “If you play against strong opponents, you get used to them, and you learn that these players have these characteristics. I think that experience is also necessary. I’m sure there are many players who would like to play overseas, but right now, it may not work out due to timing and Corona. Playing overseas is not everything, but experience is a plus for Japan’s national team, so if that is difficult, I hope we can have more test matches.
On October 23, Japan will host Australia, one of the world’s best teams, in Oita, but Matsushima will not play, and the national team plans to have him join the team after he travels to Europe. Matsushima said, “I’m not really worried about the national team. First, I need to regain my senses and if I play well here (in France), I think I will be selected for the national team.
The 2023 World Cup will be held in France, where Matsushima will be playing. The more “Mats” shines, the more positive it will be for Japan’s rugby team, which is aiming for the top four or higher.
Reporting and writing by： Kenjin Saito
Born in 1975. Sports writer who covers and writes about rugby and soccer for magazines and websites. "He has covered the World Cup for five consecutive tournaments until 2019. He has covered five consecutive World Cups until the 2019 tournament, and covered all 57 matches for the Japanese national team in the last tournament led by Eddie Jones. His recent publications include "A Dictionary of Rugby Words" (Seibundoshinkosha) and "Introduction to Watching Rugby" (Kairyu-sha). In his high school days, he played as a FB who was good at tackling.