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The Irish connection behind one of Japan's Rugby World Cup heroes

One of the team’s stars played for Blackrock College RFC at the start of his career.

Japan's Luke Thompson, top left, and South Africa's Victor Matfield compete for the ball in a line out during the Rugby World Cup Pool B match.
Japan's Luke Thompson, top left, and South Africa's Victor Matfield compete for the ball in a line out during the Rugby World Cup Pool B match.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

Updated at 18.16

JAPAN’S SHOCK DEFEAT of South Africa at the Rugby World Cup during the weekend is easily the most talked-about moment of the competition so far and one of the biggest upsets ever in the sport.

And believe it or not, Saturday’s historic match has an Irish connection. The 34-year-old New Zealand-born lock Luke Thompson, who put in an impressive performance in his side’s thrilling 34-32 victory, had a two-year stint at Blackrock RFC early in his rugby-playing career.

Gavin Hegarty, who played with Thompson at U20 level, explained how “proud” everyone at the club was of the Japan star, along with all the other Blackrock-affiliated players who feature in this year’s competition.

Thompson spent time in Blackrock College as part of an exchange programme with St Bede’s College, Christchurch to work with the boarders at the school. He subsequently joined Hegarty and the rest of his teammates in the U20 club side.

“He came down to play with the U20s in the club and really stood out,” Hegarty tells The42. “He was a very serious guy on the pitch and dominated everyone he came across. He didn’t spend long with the U20s though, as the firsts called him up, even though he was only 19.

“He always stood out and his goal was always a pro contract, he had the plan set out to go Crusaders and then full All Blacks. I think there were too many quality second rows [including Chris Jack and Brad Thorn] there, so he took a contract in Japan and then got residency.”

Source: World Rugby/YouTube

And Hegarty adds that there is little chance of Thompson losing any focus following his integral part in Saturday’s shock win over South Africa.

“Luke is the type of competitor that would have celebrated for about five minutes on Saturday and then turned the focus on beating Scotland,” he says.

After leaving Blackrock, Thompson has enjoyed a successful career in rugby. In addition to also representing Japan at the 2007 and 2011 Rugby World Cups, he has had stints at Belfast (in Christchurch rather than Ireland), Canterbury, Panasonic Wild Knights and current side Kintetsu Liners in Japan.

Thompson, whose sister Anna is a renowned netball star in New Zealand, has earned 59 caps in total for his adopted country, scoring 45 points in the process since his international debut in 2007. Having played the full match on Saturday, his place has been confirmed in the starting XV again as Japan take on Scotland tomorrow.

Furthermore, the veteran forward is not the only player at this year’s Rugby World Cup with Blackrock College connections — Irish players Luke Fitzgerald, Ian Madigan and Jordi Murphy as well as Brett Thompson and AJ MacGinty of the USA have all represented the team at various levels in the past.

In pics: Ireland belatedly receive World Cup caps at welcome ceremony>

Murphy keen to put breakdown record straight against Romania at RWC>

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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