4 Dec. 2020


『I am constantly battling with myself, both physically and mentally』

Jordan Smiler, a big and versatile player who can do many things, gave us a sense of his personality from this interview. He seems to be making progress with his studies for the future. (Interviewed on Early November/2020)

◆New challenges are opportunities to grow

――How were you spending your time during the Covid-19 pandemic that people are experiencing for the first time?

(In Japanese)It was boring. I practiced myself every day in the gym. (In English) It was my first time experiencing something like this, not only for me but also for other players, and I always had been in a team training environment, so for the first time it was very difficult to be motivated to train individually for five months.

――Did you have time to communicate with your family?

On the positive side, I was happy to spend time at home and with my family, but I was limited in what I could do in a state of lockdown. No matter how much time we spent together as a family, there was a part of us that was stressed out because we have our kids too, so we tried to balance our lives by making sure we had time for ourselves.

――How long did you spend in New Zealand?

I came back to Japan around the end of September.

――How have you found yourself in your three seasons with Sungoliath so far?

I saw the new challenge as an opportunity to grow, and I think I needed a season to fit in with the style of rugby played in Japan. When I was playing in Super Rugby, there were a lot of players who were very physical and the tackles would come around the chest, but in Japan, it's low tackle and you need more agility. I had to adapt my running style to that, so it took me some time to adjust the balance there.

I think Top League is just as tough a competition as Super Rugby. You have to be physically strong to compete in that environment, and conditioning is important, so I am always thinking about growing and getting stronger every day.

――You've told me before that you can play from number 4 to 9 as a position, but I'd like to see a player this tall play number 9.

(In Japanese)When I was young, I was also able to play number 10 (laughs). (In English) I don't know if it's genetic, or if it's a family history, there are many families that are tall but skinny. It was difficult for me to build up my body, but I played bucks all the time from when I was little until I was 16 or 17 years old, and then I started to play in the back row, so I tried to build up.

――Which do you like better, FW or BK?

I'm playing in the back row right now, and I think the back row allows me to play both the good aspects of the forwards and backs. I can experience the physicality of the forwards, and I have the opportunity to play on the edge of the field when attacking. I think I can use my strengths in that way, such as getting the ball and offloading or going straight through, so I think my current position in the back row is where I can show my good side. There are skills that I need to work on, though, such as pass-catching and lineout skills.

◆Rugby is something that starts naturally

――What do you think is the appeal of rugby, again?

Living in New Zealand, rugby comes naturally to me. Eventually I found out that I was good at rugby and then the idea of being able to make a living out of rugby came to me, and that was when I was about 19 or 20 years old. It's very exciting and it's great to be able to build a career doing what you love and I feel very blessed and grateful that I'm able to make a living playing rugby and getting paid for it.

The fact that we all work together and achieve our goals is appealing, and that's what I enjoy about it. I'm always battling with myself, both physically and mentally, and I think that's the beauty of rugby. The fact that I'm able to work towards my goals with players who have the similar mindset as mine is appealing and fun. I like working together with others to achieve a team goal, and I think that's true even if it's not rugby, but I like the atmosphere of the team sports, and I like working with players who have different strengths from me to achieve a single goal together.

――There are many foreign players who come to Suntory with a great mindset and attitude.

I think it's the same with companies, and when you're recruiting, you look at a person's character. At Sungoliath, I think we also look at people's personality on and off the field. Whether or not a person can improve the culture there is an important criterion of the recruitment process. I don't think any team would want to take someone who would destroy the culture that exists now, so I think that's why Suntory is attracting great players because that process is working well.

――What are your goals for this season?

It's important to work hard to give everything you have. That's what you need to do to achieve your goals. It doesn't change from season to season, the goal has always been to win, to fight competitively and get results. But rugby isn't just about that, I'm always trying to grow and work hard every day to always perform at my best and improve. That hasn't changed.

――Do you have dreams for the future?

I'm continuing my rugby career as a professional right now, and it's like I'm continuing to walk in my dream. I think it's difficult to find something from there that I can do with the same level of enthusiasm and passion, even after my rugby career is over. I know I have to keep looking for what that is, but I don't know if I can find it at this point in time.

As I said earlier, I like being in a team and achieving something together, so I want to work around people and surround myself with good people. That's what I want to do, and I want to have a job that leads to that. When I was playing semi-professional, I wasn't a coach, but I went around to different schools and did something like a physical education teacher. I enjoyed the experience of teaching winter sports and different sports, and I have an idea that it would be nice to have a job where I could be involved in those programs.

◆Study of body language

――You said that you fit into the Japanese culture and loved Japan since you first came to Japan, but is there anything that you like more now after three years have passed?

Japanese culture is similar to Maori culture in that they share the same respect for their elders and politeness. Maori culture and Japanese culture are similar, and there are many aspects of Japanese culture that make me feel at home. I think that is a big part of it and fits in with the Japanese culture, and I enjoy living in Japan. I don't have a new favorite part, but I think my connection to Japanese culture has become even stronger.

――What do you find interesting about Japan's unique culture?

From the Maori story, the Maori were colonized by the British and there was a time when they didn't get a good education. This has changed, and we believe that we need to learn and grow after being well educated.

Considering that background and the environment I am in now, there are many company employed players in Suntory who do their jobs well and play rugby well, so I feel that we are always representing something and we have a big responsibility to carry on. We always have an attitude to achieve our goals, and if we are going to do something halfway, we don't do it, and if we are going to do it, we do it 100%. Unlike the environment in which I was brought up, I think Japanese people are able to set their own goals and work towards them. I think this is the big difference between Japanese and Maori.

I wasn't sure if I should say this because not everyone is in that situation, but there are still some Maori people who are not getting enough education or opportunities because of their finance problems or their environment. My parents helped me to get a good education, and my siblings and relatives also got a good education, so I am grateful for that and want to change that environment. I want my children to be well educated and I want them to learn and grow up on their own.

――Finally, please answer in Japanese now. What did you do yesterday?

Yesterday we had a practice. That's all (laughs). In the evening, my wife and I watched a movie together. The rest of the time I studied myself a bit. I studied body language, which is to read the other person's emotions by watching their facial expressions and movements without using words. What do you think is the most honest part of your body? It's a foot.

For example, if your parents give you a meal when you are young and you don't like it, if you show it on your face, the other person will see it. Children gradually train themselves not to show it on their faces. However, their feet don't train them not to show their emotions, and sometimes you can understand people's emotions by looking at their feet. For example, if you are talking about something and their feet are pointing toward the exit, they are pretty much starting to feel like they want to get out of there quickly or that they are bored. But some people do it because they're comfortable, so you have to look closely at that. I'm also trying to learn body language with online courses, so that might be something I can do with my passion in the future.

――Can body language knowledge be used in rugby?

If I can sense that someone might be uncomfortable with a small physical movement, I ask a question or talk to them, and I also look at their body language to figure out what to say and when to say it. Most of the body language is the same worldwide, but there are some differences between the races. I will read and learn that chapter now.

――How about a new "Body Language Coach"?

All teams are doing the same kind of physical training right now, and I think the results will be different depending on how well we control our mental aspects and how well we do it. I think the difference will be whether we can make good decisions when the pressure is on.

(Interview & Structure: Kazuyoshi Hariya /Translator: Yuji Yamaguchi /Editing: Yutaro Igarashi)
[Photo: Aki Nagao]