As a Japanese professional rugby player exiled in Melbourne, hooker Shota Horie is every inch the pioneering rebel with a cause.
While the domestic J-League is no stranger to overseas imports, examples of home-grown Japanese players moving in the opposite direction and trying their luck abroad are few and far between.
Horie is one of a handful who have bucked the trend, first moving to Otago, where he linked up with compatriot and fellow rugby missionary Fumiaki Tanaka, and then on to the Victorian capital of Melbourne, who, this week, rewarded him with a contract extension.
Hailed as ‘a big influence’ by Melbourne Rebels coach Tony McGahan, Horie, who has made 17 appearances since his move to Australia, has also attracted lofty praise from Japan national team boss Eddie Jones.
“When you’re a Tier 2 side your domestic rugby isn’t strong enough, which is the case in Japan. You need your best players to be playing at a high level, and he’s gone there and done really well for the Rebels,” said Jones, the former Wallaby Rugby World Cup-winning coach. “I reckon he is the first player in Japan who can be a genuinely world class player, he’s that gifted.”
Horie is a key member of the all-conquering Japan team that has stormed into the top ten in the IRB World Rankings on the back of 10 straight Test victories, and the benefits of his move abroad – both personal and to his country – are now clear to see.
“If I wasn’t playing rugby I think I would just be a salary man in a 9 to 5 job…just a suit, I wouldn’t be jet-setting around the world. I think my life would be rather dull,” Horie tells Total Rugby. “I have been lucky enough to experience so much and this isn’t the end – I want to experience so much more.”
Horie added: “Teammates ask how a scrum is formed in Super Rugby – or what Super Rugby is like in general and I say, actually, it’s not all that different. The strategy is better in Japan, but when it comes down to individual ability, that’s different. The individual skill is higher in Super Rugby players, so that’s something Japanese players can develop. Japan players can play abroad, it’s just whether they are serious in their intentions and courageous enough to move.”
On his toes
Appearing at a second Rugby World Cup is without doubt one of Horie’s main ambitions, but on whatever stage he finds himself on in the immediate future the 32-cap international always sets out to do his country proud.
“It’s taken six years to make it to Super Rugby and my dream has come true,” he said. “But I have always had it in the back of my mind that I’m representing Japan. I always felt that I need to play as a representative of Japan – the pressure is still there, it’s not overwhelming but it keeps me on my toes.”