Japan's 'Iron Man' lock Ono hangs up his boots

Tokyo (AFP) –


Japanese lock Hitoshi Ono, who won a record 98 caps for his country and played in the famous "Miracle of Brighton" 2015 World Cup win over the Springboks, announced his retirement on Monday.

The 42-year-old played his last game for the Brave Blossoms against Scotland in a 21-16 loss in 2016 -- leaving him agonisingly stranded two caps short of his 100th.

He did not feature in Japan's history-making side that reached the 2019 Rugby World Cup quarter-finals at home, with veteran locks Luke Thomson and James Moore preferred in the Japanese engine room.

At 37, he was the oldest man to represent Japan when he took the field for his last cap, with then coach Eddie Jones hailing an "unbelievable achievement" -- and putting his long career down to some unusual skills.

"He's an incredibly tough player and that is why he's picked," said Jones at the time.

"If you want a strong child make sure they get brought up on a dairy farm, deliver the papers every morning, drink 10 beers a night," added Jones in typically light-hearted comments.

Ono began his career against Korea in 2004 but the highlight was undoubtedly the Brave Blossoms' 34-32 win over South Africa at the 2015 World Cup -- arguably the biggest upset in the sport's history.

Relatively short for a lock at six foot four inches (1.95m), he managed to score 13 tries in his international career but none against top-tier opposition. He also captained Japan seven times.

At club level, he played for Japanese Super Rugby franchise the Sunwolves and enjoyed a long career with Toshiba Brave Lupus, whom he joined in 2001.

Originally from Fukushima, Ono was a baseball player at high school and university but switched to rugby at 18 after being courted by the rugby team.