10 Dec. 2020


『 I always want to try new things with an open mind 』

The foreign players of Sungoliath appear to be generally serious and hard-working type of players, and Tom Savage is one of the most serious of them. What is he really like? We tried to get to know his personality while asking about rugby and his family. (Interviewed on Mid November/2020)

◆This sport is perfect for me

――Why did you choose to play in Japan and why did you choose Sungoliath

Watching Japan's national team in the World Cup, I was looking forward to playing with the players in the national team. I was also fascinated by the fact that the world's top players were playing in the Top League. The idea of playing rugby in a new environment appealed to me and that is why I decided to come to Japan. I played for Gloucester (Premiership Rugby in England) for about eight seasons and played about 200 games, and I thought that Suntory was a solid club with good results, so I decided to come to Japan because I thought it would be a good fit for me.

――Have you been playing rugby since you were a kid?

I started playing rugby when I was 15 years old and felt it was the right sport for me from the beginning. Before that, my brother was a professional mountain biker, and I was also a mountain biker before I started playing rugby.

――You're big for a mountain biker, aren't you?

My brother is smaller than me, but I was bigger than him, so when I started playing rugby, I knew that this sport was right for me. The sport my brother plays is called push bike trial, in which he competes for the time it takes to jump over about 10 obstacles and so on.

――What exactly made you think that rugby was the right fit for you?

I wasn't just a mountain biker when I was a kid, I experienced a lot of different sports to build my base as an athlete. Rugby is an extraordinary sport, or rather, it allows you to go bumping into people, so I felt that this physical aspect of rugby was good for me. Also, the fact that it was a team sport, a sport that could be enjoyed with friends was one of its attractions.

――Did your family influence you to start playing rugby?

I am the middle of three brothers, and my family all loved sports, and I have always had a competitive spirit since I was little, not wanting to lose to my brothers. That translated to rugby as well, and I still have that feeling today. Last season, my father came to watch me play, and everyone was surprised because he was about my size. So, I think my family had a huge influence on me, and I grew up in an environment where I loved sports, including my siblings, so I think that was great too.

◆Always hard work

――200 games for Gloucester sounds great, but how was it looking back?

I think it was important for me to take my chances, I started playing rugby when I was 15 years old and some of the players around me started playing at a much younger age, so I knew I had to learn and improve quickly and I always worked hard and wanted to improve. The results came from there and the university I entered was connected to Gloucester and I was given the chance to sign with Gloucester as soon as I graduated from the university. I was able to play for Gloucester from the start and reach 200 games.

――Did you decide to turn rugby into a career when signed with Gloucester?

That's right. I won the championship in my senior year at university and Gloucester invited me to join because of that result. I thought I could go to an environment where I could develop myself further and I had the chance to make a living at rugby.

――It is said that rugby was born in England, so do you have that pride in playing rugby?

Sure, rugby originated in England, but you don't think too much about it, and you don't play with it in mind. My focus is to contribute to the team with my performance and to play my role well. That's what I'm focused on at all times and that's how I play.

――You were also captain at Gloucester.

First of all, I think it's important as a leader to maintain high standards and set good examples, so I always try to keep that in mind. Ideally, I would focus on giving 100% of my own performance and then successfully influence the players around me to lead the team as a leader. Even if you are the captain of a team, you can't achieve the results by yourself, and I don't believe that you can achieve the goals of the team by yourself, so I think I learned to achieve the results with the help of others. I was young enough to become captain, so I didn't start out well, but I think I learned and grew as I went along.

◆Increase the work rate for functional and effective carries

――What do you think your role is in Sungoliath?

First of all, I think it's important to be in the best state you can be and to think about the role you're expected to play by the team. It will change depending on the situation, but after thinking about how I need to contribute to the team, I am aware of the fact that I should always level up to the best state and the best version of myself and never stop improving and doing it well.

――What do you think is the best type of play to show your personality?

It's about getting my work rate up as much as possible, and although my role changes from scene to scene, I make solid, functional and effective carries. I also have physical strength, so I think my strength is in showing physical strength in the ruck and tackle and influencing others in a positive way.

――From the way you look and what you say, you look smart along with your physicality, but what do you think of yourself?

I think my days and my experiences have an impact on me. I think the more experience I gain, the smarter I will be able to play, and the more I can think about rugby naturally, the faster I will be able to make good decisions depending on the situation, and that is what has led me to my current rugby status I play.

――If so, did you feel comfortable playing Japanese rugby?

Obviously, there were some adjustments that I had to make, but when I was playing in Europe, I was more focused on set pieces, because it was raining a lot. My team spent a lot of time on kicking, on scrums, on mauls from penalties, and so on, and I was conscious of how to keep possession high.

But Japanese rugby is more attacking than defensive, and the ruck speed is high, and they aggressively move the ball to the backs, so I think it's faster rugby. Also, the weather is better than in Europe, so there are more movements with the ball in Japan. The style is different, so I had to adjust to that.

――Is Japanese rugby your favorite style?

I feel that the Rugby World Cup in Japan was a great success, and I have to challenge myself to play fast paced Japanese rugby but the ball in play is longer and I have more chances to touch the ball, to carry it, and to tackle it, so I'm enjoying it a lot.

――Are you actively trying in writing and speaking Japanese?

(In Japanese) I study Japanese twice a week. (In English) Japanese is difficult, but I'll learn it as much as I can.

――What do you like about Japan?

First of all, it's great that we can live in a clean environment because our children are still young, and everyone is polite and good to us. Also, I really like the Japanese food. (In Japanese again) My baby is 10 months old now, and she's my daughter. She's so cute. (laughs) She's a bit heavy, 12 kilos, 73 centimeters.

――Does your wife also like Japan?

The environment has changed a lot, but she is enjoying it.

◆I definitely want to win

――What are your goals for this season?

We have been working hard as a team, and we definitely want to win the championship. My personal goal is also to win, and I will always try to keep in mind that I'm growing every day.

――You became a vice-captain this season.

Ryoto (Nakamura) is the captain and the other vice-captain is Hori (Kosuke Horikoshi). I would like to support each other and contribute to the team, so that we can achieve results. We have a great group of people in the leadership group and it's a great honor to be among them. I will be splitting my role among the leaders and I will be working on defense and set pieces.

――What are your future targets?

I still think I can play for many more years to come, but I hope to be able to use my experience as a coach and staff member to lead my team to a championship when I retire.

――You could represent England or Japan.

If someone calls me that, I'd love to challenge that. Like other players, I have the same desire to challenge myself in a top environment.

――I feel you are serious person, but what do you think of your own personality?

If you ask many people, you will get different opinions, but when I was young, I always played aggressively, but that would not last, so now I try to relax as much as possible during the weekdays, to keep my energy up so that I can perform in the games at best on the weekends, and so on and off. I'm getting better at balancing the two. I also want to keep an open mind and try new things.

Being able to play professional rugby is an opportunity that not everyone has the opportunity to get, and it is the most ideal job that I had in mind, and I am able to have it, so I do it with my best to enjoy myself. Also, being a rugby player is a job that you can only have for a limited amount of time, so I'm very conscious of having fun.

――What kind of child were you when you were little?

I didn't do anything that bad (laughs), but I was a naughty boy, I guess. I think I was basically a good kid (laughs).

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