Japanese rugby star Ayumu Goromaru announced his retirement on Wednesday, admitting he had struggled to deal with fame but saying he hoped he had helped transform his country’s rugby fortunes.
The 34-year-old, who will call time on his career after the 2021 domestic season, gained cult status in Japan after leading the nation to a historic win over South Africa at the 2015 World Cup in England.
Goromaru’s rugged good looks and distinctive goal-kicking pose — bent slightly forwards, with his fingers pressed together as if in contemplation — earned him a huge following.
A bronze statue and a “Master of Ninjas” title were among the honours bestowed on the fullback, who also had a giraffe named after him at a Japanese zoo.
He was once estimated as the world’s richest player, but his career went into a tailspin as he flopped in stints with Queensland Reds in Super Rugby and Toulon in France’s Top 14.
Goromaru then missed out on a place in Japan’s 2019 World Cup squad — a tournament that saw the Brave Blossoms reach the last eight for the first time on home soil — but he said his experiences helped rugby gain a foothold in a country previously obsessed by baseball and football.
“It made me very uneasy to be the focus of everyone’s attention, but I felt it was my obligation to help spread the word about rugby in a country where it hadn’t been so popular,” Goromaru said at a press conference hosted by his club side, Yamaha Jubilo.
“It was tough at first, but once I got my head around it, I realised I had been given a great opportunity. Even if there was just one person who got into rugby because of my pose, it would have made it all worthwhile.”
– ‘Miracle of Brighton’ –
Goromaru played a pivotal role in Japan’s “Miracle of Brighton” win over South Africa in 2015, where he scored 24 points in a 34-32 victory masterminded by current England coach Eddie Jones.
Goromaru described Jones as “someone who changed my life in a big way”, but he also urged his countrymen to show their former boss how far they have come when Japan face England at the 2023 World Cup in France.
“Japan’s opponents have now been decided, and by a twist of fate they’re playing Eddie Jones’s England,” he said.
“It feels like destiny. Beating England, the birthplace of rugby, would increase rugby’s popularity even more in Japan, and I want the players to set that target and really go for it.”
The Top League, Japan’s domestic competition, kicks off its season on January 16 and runs until May 2021.
Goromaru, who decided that he would retire at the age of 35 when he signed his first professional contract as a 22-year-old, will end his career with 57 caps for Japan.
“Japanese rugby has changed a lot in the past few years,” said Goromaru.
“The national team is much stronger than it was when I was a kid. Individually, you have Japanese players like Kotaro Matsushima and Kazuki Himeno going overseas.
“That’s something I could have never even dreamed of when I was young.”