AUCKLAND--Two Japanese teenagers are battling on the field in the rugby stronghold of New Zealand, hoping to one day raise the level of the game in their home country.
Shinjiro Kumazaki, 18, a hooker for Kelston Boys' High School, and Kazan Watanabe, 18, a standoff for Christchurch Boys' High School, faced off against each other in a highly anticipated match on Oct. 20, just days before host New Zealand won the rugby World Cup.
During the game, which was broadcast nationwide, Watanabe set up a try after giving instructions to his teammates in English. He also scored by a conversion kick in Christchurch Boys' High School's 15-13 victory.
Christchurch Boys' High School is a powerhouse that has produced many national team members. But it was Kumazaki's school that won the national competition this year.
The 179-centimeter, 100-kilogram Kumazaki hails from Kanie, Aichi Prefecture. He and his family moved to New Zealand when he was in the second year of junior high.
"It was really difficult until I got used to the hard-hitting tackles of New Zealand-style rugby," he says.
Kumazaki practices three times a week and spends his free time with his family or strengthening his body in the gym or on the wrestling mat. He has also been selected for the Under-18 Auckland team.
The 175-cm, 70-kg Watanabe is from Yokohama. He moved to New Zealand alone to attend school in the country. He can kick accurately with both legs, and his skillful passes and speed were evident in New Zealand from the start.
But Watanabe says he initially lacked judgment.
"In New Zealand, we have games every weekend from May to August. Now that I have gotten used to the games, I think I gained the skills to change strategies during play," he says.
After graduating from high school, Watanabe plans to return to Japan and play for a university in the greater Osaka area.
Kumazaki plans to try out for club teams in New Zealand or other countries. But like Watanabe, Kumazaki also dreams of eventually playing for the Japanese national team.
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