'I could feel where I have grown': Japan star talks up Super Rugby stint following historic Lions match
Himeno was a late addition to the Brave Blossoms squad, having to fly across the world following the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final last weekend. While he was unlikely to ever start the game, some were surprised that Himeno was named in the matchday squad at all, given the 26-hour journey he’d endured earlier in the week.
It didn’t take long for the big flanker to make a splash once he joined the game, scoring Japan’s first try of the game in the 64th minute, crashing over from a rolling maul.
Brave Blossoms No 10 Yu Tamura kicked a penalty moments later, which brought Japan’s total up to 10 points, but that was to be the final score of the game with the match ending 28-10 in the Lions’ favour.
Following the match, Himeno expressed his satisfaction at taking part in the historic game – the first-ever clash between Japan and the Lions.
“Being able to play against the Lions today will be a treasured moment in my rugby career. It was a great experience,” he told Kyodo News.
“My Super Rugby experience in New Zealand has given me more self-confidence,” he said. “In stages of today’s match, I could feel where I have grown.”
Himeno was named the Super Rugby Aotearoa Rookie of the Year following the NZ-only competition. While Himeno was in his first season with a New Zealand side, he’d previously represented the Sunwolves in Super Rugby during the 2018 season – making him a somewhat curious recipient of the award.
He won’t be returning to New Zealand anytime soon, however, with the Highlanders announcing that Himeno had finished his contract with NZ’s southernmost franchise.
Japan's historic clash with the Lions marked the Brave Blossoms' first test match since the 2019 Rugby World Cup – and they quickly reminded the world what they'd been missing out on. #LionsRugby #1888Cup #JapanRugby @JRFURugbyhttps://t.co/gNczukqmLc
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) June 27, 2021
While the Highlanders entered the season with arguably the best loose forward depth in New Zealand rugby, their stocks took a hit as the season progressed.
Former All Black Liam Squire was the first to be invalided for the season while Marino Mikaele-Tu’u was also scratched. Himeno, to his credit, had already cemented his spot in the starting team on the back of some superlative performances early in the season, and was a constant presence in the loose forwards, ultimately making 11 appearances throughout the Highlanders’ campaign.
The side finished second in the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition, going down 23-15 against the Blues in the grand final at Eden Park.
Japan’s clash with the Lions marked the team’s first test match since the 2019 Rugby World Cup, with their entire 2020 schedule cancelled due to the global pandemic.
Despite going down by 18 points, fans from around the world were happy to see the Brave Blossoms back on the park thanks to their exciting brand of rugby.
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