12 Apr. 2024


HENDRIK TUI " What I like most is when I get the ball and go forward. "

Tui repeatedly breaks through the opponents defense with the ball. He is truly "unrivaled in strength" and we asked him about the secret to his success. (Interview date: early April 2024)

◆Running strong and balance

――You're performing very well this season, aren't you?

I started off slow and not very well at first, but I'm getting better every game. I'm getting older so it's just taken a while (laughs).

――What's your secret to getting better each game even though you are getting older?

This has been the case for a while, but as you play more games your game fitness improves, and as your game fitness improves your performance also improves.

――There's no need for an off-season then

Hahaha (laughs). An off-season is necessary (laughs).

――Have gotten bigger?

Maybe I drank too much Premium Malt's (laughs). I wasn't getting bigger physically, but I had to strengthen my hips, so I think that's where the power came from. After I got injured, I was more consistent with my daily preparations, and I think that's also affecting my performance.

――The preparation and rehabilitation have paid off then!

Yes. I'm doing it to avoid another injury, but I feel like I have better balance when I run. I feel like my muscles are working properly and I'm running with good balance.

◆Something I've always loved

――Is this the best condition you've ever had?

It's not my best. I'm already 36, so I do feel old (laughs).

――You don't look your age with your explosive power and line break ability at all.

Thank you (laughs). In terms of the game plan, the coaches tell me to "make sure you get forward with your carries," so I'm trying to be conscious of that and carry the ball powerfully. Last time we had an interview was when I was playing as a lock as my role has changed over the past few years, but this season I'm playing the role of number 8.

――I think it is very difficult to actually carry the ball forward just because you're told to do so. How are you able to do it?

My favorite part of the game is getting forward with the ball. That's what I've always liked and done throughout my career. As I get older, my speed slows down, though (laughs).

――When you're playing you have an invincible look on your face, but deep down you're having fun and smiling?

At this stage, I don't know when my career will end, but as the oldest veteran on the team, I am trying to enjoy each and every game, make the most of every opportunity, and have fun in every match.

――Watching you play is also a lot of fun

Thank you (laughs). After every game, former players of Sungoliath when I first came to the team contact me. Sometimes messages are "That was a great game," or, sometimes they are angry and message "Why did you lose? What's going on?" (laughs).

――So you are also a representative for them.

Yes it is an important role

◆So that everyone can stay positive

――In the match against Kobelco Kobe, three of the team's five tries were scored by forwards. You also scored a try and assisted a try. Are you getting better?

The try that I assisted Hokko (Hockings) on was a set piece move, so I was happy to be able to score the try as a forward. Seiya (Ozaki) made a good carry and Seiya did all the difficult parts, so I was lucky to get in there and score a try.

――Did you think the ball was coming?

I thought he had a chance because he's good at offloading, and I thought he'd get past the first defender.

――How did you feel when you scored the try?

I was very happy. Seiya got past the first player well, and then he gave me a good offload pass even though he was tackled. It was a one-handed flick pass, but after I caught it, there was a fullback, so I was happy to get past him and score a try.

――Your dream as a child you've said was you wanted to be happy when you grow up, but are you now happy?

Little by little (laughs).

――You said that the good thing about playing rugby is that you can "play with friends, meet new friends, and test your body and mind." It really does feel like an extension of playing.

There are many challenges ahead of me, but I still enjoy it, and although there are tough days, I always stay positive and approach others in a positive way so that everyone stays positive. We all have the same goal in mind, especially in practice, so I always stay positive so that we can achieve that. I'm trying to do my part to win games and become champions.

◆I feel very lucky and honored that my job is rugby.

――Testing your body and mind must be a tough thing to do, but is it also a fun thing?

I feel very lucky and honored that my job is rugby. There are many tougher and more difficult things in the world, but I am always grateful that I am able to play rugby.

――How do you feel about your body?

I think I can lose another 1-2kg (laughs). I would be happy if I could be at my peak for the semi-finals and finals of the playoffs. I feel like I will gain confidence with that. At this stage, I'm about 90% confident, so I want to make it 100% for the playoffs.

――You've mentioned Shimokawa and Hashimoto as players to watch for the Sungoliaths, but what do you think about them?

Both of them are young players with different strengths. I'm looking forward to seeing them, and they are exciting players. As for Kanji (Shimokawa), he has the ability to cover all positions. He has a high work rate, and he always has a high work rate in both attack and defense. He is also good at lineout jumping.
Ryuga (Hashimoto) also has a high work rate, and is good at both attack and defense. Kanji is better at lineouts, and I think that's why he plays more games. Both of them are very talented and I think they are good players.

――Can you teach them how you make line breaks?

I think I can teach them, but they are both good players, so if they have any questions, I'll answer them, and if they need any support, I'll help them. They ask me a lot of questions, and I think they are both progressing in a good direction.

◆Setting standards for young players

――New foreign players have joined the team this season. Is there anything you would like to tell them?

The difficult thing now is that there are more and more young foreign players, and since they are from different generations and ages, it's hard to connect with them (laughs). When I came to Suntory, George Smith and others were there, and at that time, everyone knew the Suntory standards and the standards in training were a given.. That was when we were winning championships one after another. Eddie (Jones/current Japan national team head coach) was the coach, and he changed all the programs and had a clear understanding of the standards.
So when I came to Suntory, the standards were clear and easy to understand. Now it's been a while since we won, and we have to teach those standards to the young players. However, since we are from different generations, it's difficult to know how to convey the standards to them.

――They can learn a lot by watching you.

Young players don't drink much alcohol, so it's hard to build relationships off the field, but Suntory is a liquor company after all.

――What is your favorite drink?

Suntory Highball

◆Consistency is key

――What are your current work?

Personally, it's game fitness. I want to be a player who can play for 80 minutes, so I want to increase my playing time little by little. As a team, our good and bad points are different every week, so I think it's important to be consistent in both attack and defense and be able to perform at the same level.

――Do you have any tips for maintaining consistency?

I think the preparation for weekly practice and games is good, but I think there are some issues with the mentality on game day. It's about not letting your guard down until the end and keeping to the rules and carrying them out for 80 minutes. So far this season, I don't think there has been a game where you've been able to perform well for the entire 80 minutes.

――So ultimately, concentration is important?

Yes, that consistency. I think there are a lot of times when the momentum is not clear, but there are a lot of factors that go into it, like winning the ball back from the opponent, keeping possession of the ball, being disciplined and not giving away penalties.

――You have to keep saying that, right?

As for me, I have to work hard so I can keep up with the younger players (laughs).

――This seasons goal?

It's the same every year, but to win. It's been a while since we last won, so I want to win for Saji-san too. I think we have a chance this season. I don't think other teams are paying much attention to Suntory, but I think we'll be a dark horse.

(Interview & Structure: Kazuyoshi Hariya /Translator: Jesse Okitaro Hino)
[Photo: Aki Nagao]