19 Apr. 2024


TAMATI IOANE " I want to be the physically strongest player in Japan "

Ioane was born in New Zealand and came to Japan via Australia. His smile between each comment during the interview was very charming. (Interview date: mid-April 2024)

◆Get Forward

――Your return from injury was in the 13th round against Mie Honda Heat. Were you able to come back in good condition?

Yes, that's right. There were some parts where I struggled, but I was able to play better than I expected, so I think that was good. I'm happy with my play, and the coaches only told me to "get forward," so I played with a very simple game plan and focused on that. My role was very clear.

――Which do you think was better, attack or defense?

Probably the carries. I think I carried more than I tackled.

――Regarding carries, were you able to play to your strengths?

I think my physical strength is my point of difference.

――You made good tackles when the opponent was attacking.

Since I was able to start contact, I have been practicing defense with our defense coach Hugh (Hogan), so I think the results were good because of the training I had put in.

――So we're currently watching your development as a player


◆The desire to play in Japan

――What made you come to Japan after playing in New Zealand and Australia?

I've always wanted to play in Japan. The reason is that Hendy (Tui Hendrick) went to the same high school and grew up in the same area, and when I found out that someone who grew up in the same area was doing well in Japan, I wanted to play in Japan.
My brother and Hendy played together in high school, so I have a picture of Hendy on the wall of my parents' house. Every time I saw a picture of Hendy or watched him play, I'd always wanted to play in Japan.

――So that dream came true.

Yes. I was very happy when I was able to come and play in Japan.

――You looked like Tui when you played against Mie Honda Heat.

I'm very happy about that. Hendy is also performing very well, so it makes me happy to hear that (laughs).

――Since coming to Japan, has Tui taught you anything or communicated with you?

He supported me for a week before my first match back. If there was anything I didn't understand, he supported me. Since it was my first match back, we worked together from training and he was a really great support.

◆Islander culture is similar to Japanese culture

――What kinds of things did you not understand when you first came?

The only thing I struggled with when I came to Japan was the language. There were times when I couldn't connect with everyone because of the language barrier. Basically, Islander culture and Japanese culture are similar in many ways, such as respecting others and respecting your seniors, so it was easy to get used to that.

――What do you think is the best part of Japanese culture ?

Rather than being surprised or feeling something new, it was really similar to the culture I'm used to, and the way people treated each other was very similar to my own culture, so it was easy to get used to it. One thing that surprised me was that everyone was kind, respectful and polite to each other.

――Are you working hard to study the language?

Yes, I take Japanese lessons once a week. I'm learning little by little. There are still times when I understand what they're saying and times when I don't, but I think I can order my own food.

――Do you want to stay in Japan for a long time?

I want to stay as long as possible. I brought a dog from over here, but if I didn't intend to stay long, I wouldn't have brought my dog.

――What's his name?

His name is Pumba. I named it after the character in The Lion King.

◆I was just constantly running

――It's hard to have this image from the way you play, but you smile a lot during interviews.

I'm always told the opposite. People say that my natural face looks angry (laughs). My wife tells me to smile more (laughs).

――What do you need to work on going forward?

My off the ball efforts such as being able to set quickly. I don't think the off the ball efforts will increase unless my fitness improves, so I want to keep improving my fitness.

――Would you consider yourself fit?

I think I have to work harder than the average person (laughs).

――I assume you've been doing a lot of fitness training, but have you seen results?

I couldn't play rugby because of an injury, so I've been running everyday so I think my fitness has improved (laughs).

――Have you started to like running?

I hated it when I first became a professional, but now I can tolerate it. Everyone runs in Japanese rugby, so I think you have to like running too.

――I assume you enjoy a lot of different aspects of the game, but which part of rugby do you enjoy the most?

Being with your teammates. I think my current environment is great and I don't want to go back to the job I had before I decided to play rugby full-time.

――What kind of work were you doing?

I've done a variety of things, including working in a warehouse and as a support worker.

――Do you enjoy being with everyone, because you easily feel lonely?

My wife and I moved about five times in Australia and we're always just the two of us, so I don't think I feel lonely easily.

◆Stuffed Animal

――Your wife has also come to Japan?

Yes, she has. My wife loves Japanese food and Japanese people, so she tries to do something new in Japan every day.

――Did your wife play any sports?

No, She doesn't even know all the rules of rugby. When we watch rugby together, I have to explain it to her. When she watches me playing in the stadium, she is very nervous watching me play. She thinks I am a stuffed animal, so she thinks I might get hurt if I go into a tackle (laughs).

――Did your parents worry about you when you came to Japan?

They understood that I wanted to achieve my goal of playing in Japan, so they were happy for me.

――Tui was here as well so that must have helped.

I didn't think we would be on the same team.

――What did your brother have to say about it?

He was a year older than Hendy, so he said it was great to be on the same team as Hendy. My brother retired from rugby, I think about 4 years ago. He didn't turn pro, but he did coach at a school. My family is on the other side of the world, so I do miss him a little at times.

――So Tui played longer than your brother.

Yes, I hope to play as long as Hendy though.

◆ Developed as a player in Japan

――Is there a player you aspire to be like?

Ardie Savea (Kobe Steelers). I think he has all the skills to play rugby. I'm looking forward to playing against him. I hope I get the chance.

――What kind of player do you want to be?

I want to be the physically strongest player in Japan. I want people to think of Tamati as the physically strongest player in Japan.

――What's your goal?

To win. Personally, it's to do the best I can. To fulfill my role and make it to the finals. A lot has happened over the past three years, but I think I've grown since coming to Japan, so I'd like to continue working hard to grow every year from now on.

――I'm sure the match against Mie Honda Heat gave you a lot of confidence.

I felt confident after the match, but the next day I felt I had to start from scratch

――Did you drink after the match?

No, I only drink two or three times a year. I'd like to drink after we win the comp.

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