Rugby: Japan number eight Himeno to join Highlanders

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Rugby World Cup 2019 - Quarter Final - Japan v South Africa - Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - October 20, 2019 Japan's Kazuki Himeno looks dejected after the match REUTERS/Matthew Childs/File Photo

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan number eight Kazuki Himeno will play for the Otago Highlanders in next year’s Super Rugby competition, his Japanese club Toyota Verblitz said on Monday.

Himeno, who was a key player in Japan’s back row during their run to the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup last year, will link up with the Dunedin-based Highlanders ahead of the 2021 season that begins in January.

The 26-year-old, who has previous Super Rugby experience with the now-defunct Tokyo-based Sunwolves, has played 17 times for Japan, scoring five tries, including one against Samoa at the 2019 World Cup.

There is a strong Japanese connection at the Highlanders, who are currently looking for a new head coach.

Former Highlanders flyhalf and current Japan assistant coach Tony Brown is one of the frontrunners to fill the vacancy.

Jamie Joseph, Japan’s head coach, led the Highlanders to their sole Super Rugby title in 2015.

Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Peter Rutherford