Rebels Japanese hooker can make history

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Melbourne Rebels hooker Shota Horie has an advantage in his race to become the first Japanese player to play in the Super Rugby competition.

While Horie has joined the Rebels, his Test teammate halfback Fumiaka Tanaka has signed with New Zealand’s Highlanders.

Melbourne open the 2013 Super season by hosting the Western Force while the Highlanders have a bye giving Horie a week to beat Tanaka to the honour of being the first Japanese player in the 17-year history of the tournament.

The 26-year-old, who has 12 national caps and played in the 2011 Rugby World Cup, arrived in Melbourne on Thursday and got straight into action.

In very broken English he said the physicality of the Super competition was an attraction.

“I want to play every game,” said Horie, naming Rebels teammate James O’Connor as his favourite Wallaby.

“It will be a challenge.

“My teammates are good, very kind and I’m happy.”

While skipper Gareth Delve admitted he could only count to two in Japanese, Horie is fortunate Rebels coach Damien Hill spent three years in Japan and can speak, or at least understand, the language.

Hill said he watched Horie play a season in this year’s ITM Cup in New Zealand with Otago and was impressed by his work rate.

Standing 180cm and weighing 102kg he’s a solid unit who has the ability to sniff out a try.

“His speed and his defence and his line-out ability were three of the main things that we cottoned on to and we’re really hoping for big things for Shota while his here,” Hill said.

“There’s a lot of competition for hooker, with Ged Robinson and Pat Leafa who have been training exceptionally well.

“It will be great if the first Japanese player to play in the competition is with Melbourne but it’s a spot that needs to be earned.”

Horie has a big fan in former Australia coach Eddie Jones, who is now the Japan national coach.

“Eddie’s a big supporter of Shota and is very excited about his opportunity and looking forward to him making the most of it.”

Horie, who got married last week, will return to Japan next week to continue his obligations with the Panasonic Wild Knights.

© AAP 2014
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