Sunday, 16 February 2014

Japanese pass master Harumichi Tatekawa


One of the most gifted and impressive players to have emerged in international rugby since the World Cup has been 24 year old Japanese midfielder Harumichi Tatekawa. A player the purists would appreciate for his fine passing skill and who recently signed a Super Rugby contract to play in Australia with the Brumbies.

When Eddie Jones replaced John Kirwan as Japan coach after the World Cup, one of his first acts was to alter of selection policy to favour more Japanese players and less foreigners. Under Kirwan the 10 and 12 positions were dominated by Kiwis James Arlidge and Ryan Nicholas, but in his first match in charge Jones gave a opportunity to young Harumichi Tatekawa of the Kubota Spears. Since then, Tatekawa established himself as first choice 12, and then after an injury to Kosei Ono took the opportunity to then establish himself as first choice 10 as well. He is without doubt now one of Japan's most valuable assets, and one of the best and most consistent players of any Tier 2 nation.

What is particularly special about Tatekawa is his passing ability. Whereas in modern rugby it's big centres who can bosh and have better highlight reels in junior rugby that get pushed more, the skill of passing has become somewhat neglected. Speaking about the skill last year, Eddie Jones said in an article on The Rugby Site that "there are only two centres in Japan who can pass it accurately" and "that lack of precision is true the world over". Tatekawa was certainly one of the Japanese centres he was referring to, and Jones has noted that it's been the midfielder's ability to run and pass that has played a big part in allowing the team to play the wider game they want to.

Over the past two years Tatekawa’s passing has created several tries for Japan with long passes off both hands, with quick skilful handling to counter a blitz, his most spectacular try creating pass being one against Romania in 2012 (see below) which was a beauty, nearly half the width of the pitch. It was a pass certain players world renowned players with big reputations could only dream of.
Tatekawa’s wonder pass vs Romania November 2012
A near perfectly executed long pass just under half the width of pitch. Very few
players could have thrown that without being intercepted, the ball drifting forward
or the recipient being forced to check and the cover defence arrive in time.
Don't be mistaken that he is one dimensional though, he has strength and size to back up his skill and is technically very good at the fundamentals. In a low scoring game in the pouring rain against Canada last year, obviously not the conditions for audaciously long passes, he had one of his most influential games. He managed the game well with good decision making, did some good punts and helped create Japan's only try, but after the match what Eddie Jones singled out as "absolutely outstanding" was his work off the ball, a facet which he has been critical of at times in other Japanese players. A good example from that game was the Canadian try, where after a break Tatekawa spotted the support runner and made what might have been a great try saving tackle if others in that clip had been following the next support runner.

Tatekawa may not be a player that scores 80 metre tries or does smashing big hits that grabs casual viewers, but when he got injured against New Zealand last November (which occurred after he gave a nice pass putting his team over the gainline) his value to the side became really evident and the accuracy of Japan's attacking play was not near it's best without him.

Despite ending last year injured (the first matches he missed since Eddie Jones took charge), there was soon better news with the new year's announcement that he will join the Brumbies and become the third Japanese player to join a Super Rugby side. It will be fascinating to see how he performs at a higher level, if he succeeds aged just 24 he has the potential to go on and become one of the all time great of Japanese rugby.

1 comment :

  1. Martin Dunham3/4/14 8:10 am

    Just to add another couple of beauties, albeit against less stiff competition than Romania.