10 Best Japanese Rugby Players of All Time

Rugby in Japan has witnessed tremendous growth over the years, and a key factor in this evolution has been the emergence of exceptional talents who have made a lasting impact on the international stage. From scrappy forwards to fleet-footed backs, these players have not only brought glory to Japan but have also inspired a new generation of rugby enthusiasts. In this article, we celebrate the 10 best Japanese rugby players of all time, highlighting their remarkable performances, contributions to the sport, and why they hold a special place in the hearts of rugby fans worldwide.

Daisuke Ohata:

  • Position: Wing
  • Height: 5 feet 10 inches (178 cm)
  • Weight: 190 lbs (86 kg)
  • Skills: Lightning-fast speed, exceptional finishing abilities.
  • Best Moments: Ohata scored a remarkable 69 tries in 58 international matches, making him Japan’s all-time leading try-scorer. His best moment came in the 2003 Rugby World Cup when he scored a hat-trick against Zimbabwe.
  • Why He Was So Good: Ohata’s blistering pace and uncanny ability to find the try line set him apart. He was a game-changer and inspired others to believe that Japanese rugby could compete on the world stage, leaving an enduring impact.

Shiggy Konno:

  • Position: Flanker
  • Height: Notably short for a forward at 5 feet 7 inches (170 cm)
  • Weight: Compact and powerful at 180 lbs (82 kg)
  • Skills: Tenacious tackling, leadership, versatility.
  • Best Moments: Konno’s best moments were his gritty performances in the forward pack, where his relentless work rate and uncompromising defense became a trademark. He was instrumental in Japan’s early rugby development.
  • Why He Was So Good: Konno’s ferocious tackling and unwavering dedication to the game were instrumental in Japan’s rugby growth. He set an example of perseverance and discipline that continues to influence Japanese rugby players.

Michael Leitch:

  • Position: Flanker/Number 8
  • Height: 6 feet 4 inches (193 cm)
  • Weight: 242 lbs (110 kg)
  • Skills: Physicality, leadership, work rate.
  • Best Moments: Leitch’s standout moment was leading Japan to victory over South Africa in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, a historic upset that captured the world’s attention.
  • Why He Was So Good: Leitch’s leadership on and off the field, combined with his incredible work rate and physicality, made him a force in world rugby. He set an example for Japanese players, showing that they could compete against the best.

Yuji Matsuo:

  • Position: Flanker/Number 8
  • Height: 6 feet (183 cm)
  • Weight: 220 lbs (100 kg)
  • Skills: Ball-handling, breakdown work, versatility.
  • Best Moments: Matsuo’s versatility and consistency in the forward pack made him a vital asset to Japan. His best moments were his tireless efforts in support play and at the breakdown.
  • Why He Was So Good: Matsuo’s exceptional work ethic, combined with his ability to play multiple forward positions, provided Japan with invaluable depth. He demonstrated the importance of adaptability in rugby.

Hitoshi Ono:

  • Position: Lock
  • Height: 6 feet 7 inches (201 cm)
  • Weight: 253 lbs (115 kg)
  • Skills: Lineout expertise, durability, leadership.
  • Best Moments: Ono’s ability to dominate in the lineout and his unwavering commitment to the team were his defining qualities. His best moments include being a consistent force in the forward pack for over a decade.
  • Why He Was So Good: Ono’s towering presence, set-piece prowess, and leadership qualities made him an indispensable figure. He played a key role in setting high standards for Japanese rugby forwards.

Ayumu Goromaru:

  • Position: Fullback
  • Height: 6 feet (183 cm)
  • Weight: 194 lbs (88 kg)
  • Skills: Goal-kicking accuracy, evasive running, defensive reliability.
  • Best Moments: Goromaru’s standout moment was his exceptional goal-kicking display in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, which played a significant role in Japan’s success.
  • Why He Was So Good: Goromaru’s precision as a goal-kicker and versatility as a fullback made him a match-winner. He showcased that Japanese players could excel in specialized roles on the international stage.

Kensuke Hatakeyama:

  • Position: Prop
  • Height: 6 feet 2 inches (188 cm)
  • Weight: 286 lbs (130 kg)
  • Skills: Scrum dominance, mobility, work rate.
  • Best Moments: Hatakeyama’s dominance in the scrum and his work rate around the field were his defining attributes. His best moments came in tight scrum battles against top international teams.
  • Why He Was So Good: Hatakeyama’s physicality and scrummaging prowess set a high standard for Japanese front-row players. He showed that a strong scrum was crucial to success in rugby.

Kosei Ono:

  • Position: Fly-half
  • Height: 5 feet 10 inches (178 cm)
  • Weight: 187 lbs (85 kg)
  • Skills: Tactical acumen, precision kicking, playmaking.
  • Best Moments: Ono’s ability to control games with his tactical kicking and playmaking was his hallmark. His best moments included orchestrating Japan’s attack with finesse.
  • Why He Was So Good: Ono’s ability to read the game and execute precise kicks and passes showcased the importance of a world-class playmaker. He paved the way for future Japanese fly-halves.

Fumiaki Tanaka:

  • Position: Scrum-half
  • Height: 5 feet 6 inches (168 cm)
  • Weight: 150 lbs (68 kg)
  • Skills: Quick passing, decision-making, defensive tenacity.
  • Best Moments: Tanaka’s crisp passing and quick decision-making were key to Japan’s success in the 2015 Rugby World Cup. His best moments include orchestrating Japan’s attack with skill.
  • Why He Was So Good: Tanaka’s agility, rapid distribution, and tenacious defense defied his small stature. He showed that size should not limit a player’s impact on the game.


These 10 Japanese rugby legends have not only showcased their exceptional skills and dedication to the sport but have also helped elevate Japanese rugby to new heights. Their impact transcends the field, serving as an inspiration for the future of rugby in Japan and around the world. As the sport continues to grow in the Land of the Rising Sun, these players will forever be celebrated as pioneers and icons of Japanese rugby.

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