Goromaru back from years in wilderness

BRIGHTON (Britain) • Japanese rugby star Ayumu Goromaru has all the qualities of a manga comic action hero and his reputation is now reinforced with his all-action 24 points in his country's historic 34-32 Rugby World Cup upset win over South Africa on Saturday.

Global fame has come late to the 29-year-old full-back, who has spent as much time in the wilderness as he has done donning the red-and-white stripes of the Brave Blossoms.

"He is the cornerstone of our team," said prop Hiroshi Yamashita of "Goro", as he is fondly known by his team-mates.

Indeed, against South Africa, he kept Japan in the match as he tucked over penalties at regular intervals, never allowing the Springboks to relax and think they had killed off the game.

Yet, if not for the arrival of coach Eddie Jones, this 1.85m-tall, 100kg talent could have lain dormant - at least to World Cup spectators.

Goromaru made his Test debut at 19, but his talents were then ignored by several national coaches, even as the Japanese media hailed him as the future star of the national side.

Frenchman Jean-Pierre Elissalde gave him the cold shoulder. And while Goromaru's fortunes were revived briefly under former All Blacks wing great John Kirwan, it did not last long enough for him to make the 2011 World Cup squad.

He was cast out into the wilderness again until Jones came to his aid when the Australian arrived in 2012. The South Africa clash marked his World Cup debut.

Japan lock Justin Ives said that while Goromaru may have been in and out of the international set-up, when he opens his mouth in the dressing room everyone falls silent.

"He is a superb team-mate," he said. "He is very relaxed, very calm, but when he has something to say, he makes himself heard. He is a leader."

Goromaru will win his 55th cap today against the Scots and the burden of launching Japan's attacks as well as keeping the points board ticking over through his penalties will once again fall on him.

It is manga action hero time, as the Brave Blossoms charge towards their target of reaching the quarter-finals, and their rugby destiny could not be in better hands than Goromaru's.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2015, with the headline 'Goromaru back from years in wilderness'. Print Edition | Subscribe