Himeno Kazuki: Brave Blossoms Captain a Strong On-Field Presence for Japan at Rugby World Cup


Himeno Kazuki has earned the nickname “the jackal” for his knack for forcing turnovers, a reputation he is eager to demonstrate as he leads Japan as captain at the Rugby World Cup in France.

The Jackaler is Back

Himeno Kazuki is a giant of a man. The 29-year-old Aichi Prefecture native stands 187 centimeters tall, weighs 108 kilograms, and boasts robust, powerful arms and legs capable of generating incredible force.

Although big, he is quick on his feet, which has helped him forge a reputation as a master of the jackal, a technique of stealing the ball from opponents. In his trademark move, Himeno rushes in after his teammates tackle an opposing player, squeezing his hands through the gaps to wrestle the ball free or win a penalty by preventing the ball from being released.

At the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, the image of Himeno pulling his enormous frame from underneath the pile of bodies and punching the air in triumph following a successful jackal became a familiar sight. His performance against the world’s top players drew attention, and after the tournament he announced he was heading to New Zealand to join the Super Rugby club the Highlanders. Playing in a country where rugby is considered a religion, Himeno at his new team scored the number eight position reserved for leading forwards. He proved himself against top All Black hopefuls with his jackaling and offensive skills and was awarded Super Rugby Aotearoa Rookie of the Year.

Himeno was modest about taking rookie honors. “I had already played for Japan in the Rugby World Cup,” he stated humbly. “The award should have gone to an up-and-coming player instead.”

Not intimidated by the prospect of plying his trade in a leading rugby nation or going head-to-head against the top players in the world, Himeno has charged on, forging his own path.

Unlimited Potential

Himeno began playing rugby while attending junior high school in Nagoya. Already a strapping 170 centimeters tall, he was drawn to the physical aspects of the sport like running and tackling, with his interest soon growing into an obsession. He attended Haruhigaoka High School, which boasts a strong rugby program. In his third-year, he was selected above his high school peers for the Junior Japan team made up of university and professional players aiming to play for the senior squad.

In his first year at Teikyō University, Himeno was called up to play for the Japan Under-20 squad in a match against a New Zealand team consisting of all-star university players, serving as captain for the contest despite being the youngest person on the roster. He focused on building his physique while at Teikyō and improving his skills. Although he struggled with injuries, his dedicated training bore fruit, and in his last two years at the school his powerful play helped propel Teikyō to its seventh and eighth consecutive national titles.

Himeno is a natural leader. After university he joined Top League (now League One) team Toyota Verblitz in 2017, where out of the gate he was tapped to be captain by newly-appointed coach Jake White. White, the former coach of South Africa, recognized Himeno’s abilities and knew that by giving him experience at the top level, he would rise to the occasion.

During his first year in Japan’s top flight, Himeno’s exploits on the pitch earned him rookie of the year honors and a callup to the Japanese senior team. In his first match for the Brave Blossoms, he demonstrated his power against Australia, shaking off tacklers to score a try. He has remained on the Japanese national team roster ever since, including at the 2019 World Cup.

Best Captain Ever?

Himeno made his debut as Japan’s captain in a match against the All Blacks XV in July of this year, rallying his teammates with the message, “the most important thing is to be passionate.” He insists that he is not the type of captain who leads by making speeches. “What I do is give it my all on the field,” he says. “I try to communicate my feelings to the other players and spectators through my presence on the field.”

Leading the Brave Blossoms at the Rugby World Cup in France, Himeno knows he has his work cut out for him to fill the shoes of his predecessor and teammate Michael Leitch. “I used to aspire to be like Michael,” Himeno declares. “But now I understand that I must be better than Michael. I’m going to do everything I can to be known as the best captain in the history of the Japanese national team.”

Himeno’s can-do approach to challenges and his positive energy will serve him and his teammates well in France as the Brave Blossoms look to improve on their performance four years ago. With Himeno at the helm, expectations are high that the team will reach new heights.

(Originally published in Japanese. Banner photo: Himeno Kazuki in the scrum at a test match against New Zealand on October 29, 2022, at the National Stadium in Tokyo. © Jiji.)

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