Super Rugby Rookie: Kazuki Himeno ultra-impressive 2021 ‘Landers import

Kazuki Himeno ultra-impressive 2021 'Landers import

The ultra-impressive 2021 Highlanders import player Kazuki Himeno has already been praised with a ‘Rookie of the Year’ prize, yet he is a player who is still striving for more honours and respect from Super Rugby fans worldwide.

Performances, like he again had on Friday night versus the ACT Brumbies, go a long way to reinforcing that award. Running 30 meters, with 11 runs including an offload. The evidence each week is accounting for the reasons Tony Brown saw the potential when importing a Japanese player, ahead of a domestic professional.

Shifting from the Toyota Verblitz club team in the Japan Top League, to the Highlanders franchise in Super Rugby Aotearoa, the shift has taken some adjustment, yet Himeno has taken the challenge head-on. Just missing two matches through his managed isolation [after traveling from Japan] and an early injury. Though after that soft introduction, Kazuki Himeno has become match-hardened over Super Rugby Aotearoa, and now Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.

And success has followed his early career in his homeland, where early sightings are recalled by Rich Freeman. The editor for Kyodonews.net knows the progress that Himeno has made since the 6ft 2-inch player debuted for Toyota Verblitz in 2017. He told Last Word on Rugby, “Jake White knew a few years ago what many around the world now know – Kazuki Himeno is the real deal.

“White made Himeno the Toyota Verblitz captain straight out of university and the back-row forward has gone from strength to strength. But not content with how his progression has gone in Japan he realized he had to get out of his comfort zone and test himself overseas. And as Highlanders fans are finding out, that challenge is going pretty well.”

Kazuki Himeno ultra-impressive 2021 ‘Landers import

History favours the Highlanders as a step on the pathway for many Japanese players. That is due to the fact that both Tony Brown and current Brave Blossoms head coach Jamie Joseph have invested in men like Fumiaki Tanaka. A huge part of the Super Rugby winning 2015 team, like Himeno, Fumi is a Test player for Japan yet, at the time when the Brave Blossoms are set to play in a groundbreaking match against the British and Irish Lions in Edinburgh.

Fortunately; and with green zone travel permitted, the conclusion of his Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition soon transitions to first-class competition for Kazuki Himeno. First the Lions, and then a fiercer opponent in Ireland.

The shift downunder must be seen as a positive from the outside. Though personally, will he wonder if the decision was worth it? At a guess, you would have to agree it has been. His play is now paired to the jackler role played by Southern Hemisphere back rowers. Roaming between number eight and the blindside flanker positions, he has been both starter and has also come into the game from the bench. His caps in 2021 earned him the award of Rookie of the Year.

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The 17-Test Japanese loose forward is no rookie when it comes to international rugby yet is considered a rookie in Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa (as it is his first year contracted to a New Zealand-based team). Now his adopted team has performed extremely well over the last month, winning all five Trans-Tasman matches and earning crucial bonus points that accumulated to now earn the Highlanders a place in the Cup final.

Wins on the road over the Melbourne Rebels and ACT Brumbies will be critical experiences for players like Kazuki Himeno. Plus, their in-form senior names like Aaron Smith and Ash Dixon, who have been leading the ‘Landers by example.

Ash Dixon (see main photo) is a player who puts everything on the line for his teammates. And Smith (see main photo) has played many 70 plus minute games, helping to drive his team towards another finals placing. The first since their 2015 triumph in fact, although, that is not as long a drought as their opponents the Blues. Their last finals match was in 2013 – something that might (and very well could) will play into the hands of the visitors next Saturday night.

In his first season in Super Rugby, the Japanese player Kazuki Himeno is now able to mark down on his resume ‘played in Super Rugby TT final’. Not something that eight other franchises can say, so his time in New Zealand has truly been an incredible transition. One that will push his game to even higher limits.

 

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