Japan’s most capped Front Rower, Kensuke Hatakeyama, returns to New England
BOSTON – November 9, 2020 – The New England Free Jacks are delighted to announce the return of Japanese tighthead prop Kensuke Hatakeyama for the 2021 season of Major League Rugby. The 35-year old, 245lb, 5’10” veteran prop, returns for the second of a two year contract and will continue to impart invaluable wisdom to up-and-coming domestic tightheads for the Free Jacks, Quentin Newcomer and Spencer Krueger.
“Konnichiwa! I’m looking forward to returning to the Free Jacks in 2021”, commented Kensuke. “The 2020 season was a difficult scenario for the league and around the world in general. Our mission in 2021 to win and give hope in the midst of difficulties. We will do our best, please continue to support us!”
Hatakeyama retired from international rugby in 2016 having run out for the Brave Blossoms in 78 matches between 2008 and 2016. Kenny was a member of both the 2011 and 2015 Japanese Rugby World Cup squads and played an integral role in the Japanese team that rocked the rugby and sporting world at the 2015 Rugby World Cup when, in an upset, Japan defeated two-time Cup winners South Africa, 34–32, laying the groundwork for a story book quarter-final appearance in the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
Hatakeyama is one of the Suntory Sungoliath’s (Japanese Top League) favorite sons, having represented the side on 163 occasions and played alongside many greats of the game including Schalk Burger (South Africa), George Gregan (Australia) and George Smith (Australia). Hatakeyama helped lead the Tokyo based side to five All Japan Championship titles and four Top League Championships during his 11-year career at the club.
Off the field, Hatakeyama has become a very influential figure and passionate representative for the Japan Rugby Football Union. Hatakeyama was appointed a representative director of the Japanese Rugby Football Association in July 2017 and served as a commentator and ambassador for the sport in Japan during the 2019 Rugby World Cup in his home nation.
Hatakeyama hails from Kesennuma in the Myagi prefecture and has earned the nickname “Flying Yokozuna” (or “Flying Prop”) for his dynamic and exciting style of play. The Flying Yokozuna had a strong showing in his debut for the Free Jacks in the side’s emphatic win over Rugby United New York in the first game of the 2020 season in Las Vegas where Kensuke’s set piece expertise was clear to see. An injury kept Kensuke out for three weeks before another strong showing against NOLA Gold.
“Kensuke is a true legend and gentleman of the game,” commented Free Kacks Performance Manager, Tom Kindley. “Kenny proved a class act throughout the 2020 season, consistently personifying what it means to be a professional through his daily behaviors and getting stuck in with our academy system.
“Kenny always has a smile on his face and regardless of language barrier, finds a way to make teammates laugh and impart his wealth of knowledge. His point of difference is his mastery of set piece where he draws on experience to out-think opposition and excellent body shape to frustrate and physically bigger opposition.”
Before launching his professional career, Kenny was a standout player for Waseda University in Tokyo, contributing heavily to the teams National University Championships. In High School Kenny represented Sendai Ikuei High School in both Rugby and Basketball and his performance at the age grade rugby level led to his selection to the High School National team and Japanese U17 National team.
Kenny has most certainly become a fan favourite in New England and the Hatakeyama family will be welcomed back with open arms in 2021.
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