Japan coach shuts door on World Cup hero Goromaru

Hong Kong (AFP) –


Japan's coach on Friday said he had definitively shut the door on Ayumu Goromaru for next year's home World Cup, ending any hopes of a repeat of the 2015 heroics which made him a cult figure.

Goromaru, 32, was estimated as the world's richest player following his performances in 2015, when Japan shocked two-time champions South Africa during their best World Cup to date.

A bronze statue and a "Master of Ninjas" title were among the honours bestowed on the goal-kicking fullback, who also had a giraffe named after him at Hamamatsu zoo.

Goromaru-mania reached a peak when fans flocked to see a Buddha statue said to be striking a similar pose to the pin-up's pre-kick routine.

But after unsuccessful stints with the Queensland Reds and Toulon, and a subsequent return to Japan's Yamaha Jubilo, Goromaru's star has fallen.

Asked whether Goromaru would be considered for next year, Japan coach Jamie Joseph told AFP: "He hasn't been in the picture since the (2015) World Cup."

Joseph is now turning his attention full-time to Japan's upcoming Tests against Italy and Georgia, after being drafted in to help out with the Sunwolves, Japan's Super Rugby team, this season.

He boldly targeted the World Cup quarter-finals next year for the Brave Blossoms, who have never reached the knock-out stages despite winning three pool games in 2015.

"We want to make the top eight. We think we can do that," Joseph said in an interview in Hong Kong, where the Sunwolves play the Western Stormers on Saturday.

"We played some tier-one teams in the last couple of years. We should have beaten France in France in November last year, we drew with them.

"So on our day we can be good. It's different from the Super Rugby competition: we play four days of footie, it's a tournament, very different. So that's our goal."

- Turbo-charged Japan -

The New Zealander said he wasn't sure if he would continue his role with the Sunwolves next season, when the countdown begins in earnest towards Asia's first rugby World Cup.

"I haven't made that decision yet," he said, when asked whether he would remain at the helm of the Sunwolves.

"Taking the Sunwolves was never part of the original plan," the former Otago Highlanders coach added.

"I came (to Asia) to coach Japan but for many reasons we decided to get involved with the Sunwolves, me and my coaching team, to accelerate our development and understanding of the way we want to play the game in the World Cup."

Joseph said Japan's plans hadn't been affected by a row over the final place in their World Cup group, after Russia were installed when Spain, Romania and Belgium were all barred for fielding ineligible players.

"It doesn't matter who it is, it's going to be difficult, it's going to be at a World Cup and everyone's going to be in peak condition for that tournament," said Joseph.

He said he had already decided most of his World Cup squad, although more, including South African-born forward Grant Hattingh, would be added when they become eligible to play for Japan next year.

"Playing at home can have two (effects) on the players: it can create a lot of pressure and we certainly don't want that," added Joseph.

"But it can also give the guys a bit of a turbo as well, having the support of their families and friends.

"Playing Test matches in Japan or in your home country can be very motivating for the players so I think that's going to work for us."