2012 Inductee: Yoshihiro Sakata

(IRB.COM) Monday 4 June 2012
2012 Inductee: Yoshihiro Sakata
Legendary Japan rugby player Demi Sakata (R) was inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame, receiving his commemorative cap from Yabe Tatsuzo, Chairman of JRFU

IRB Hall of Fame – Inductee No.51 – Yoshihiro 'Demi' Sakata (1942-) Doshisha University, Kintetsu RFC, Canterbury, Japan

Personal details

– Born: 26 September 1942 in Osaka, Japan
– Family: One of the four children of Shizu and Teizo Sakata, he married Keiko and they have one son Hiroshi, who was the Japan team media liaison officer at RWC 2011. 
– Education: Rakuhoku High School between 1959 and 1961. He then read Economics at Doshisha University in Kyoto, from where he graduated with a BA in Business Studies in 1965
– Nickname: Demi
– Other sports: Judo (Black Belt) 

Professional career

He worked for Kinki Nihon Rail-roads Corporation between 1965 and 1975. In 1977, he joined the Osaka University of Health and Sport Sciences as a Lecturer. In 1984 he was made an Associate Professor and became a Professor in 1991. He has published a number of academic papers on the theory and practice of rugby coaching, competitive sports theory and the use of artificial grass for rugby fields. 

Rugby career

– Began playing for Rakuhoku High School in Kyoto in 1959 and played for the school first XV until 1961. His debut for the school first team was delayed due to shortages of playing fields
– In 1961 he joined the Doshisha University RFC in Kyoto and played on the wing until his graduation in 1965
– During the early years of his playing career he played on the right wing. After three seasons he moved to the left wing a position he played until the end of his career
– A member of the University team who won the NHK Championship (the forerunner to the All Japan Championship) in 1962 
– He played for the Doshisha University team who won the All Japan Championship in 1964
– In 1965 he joined Kintetsu Railway RFC in Osaka, playing on the wing and won the Japan Corporations Championship in 1967, 1968, 1970 and 1975 
– A member of the Kintetsu RFC team that won the All Japan Championship in 1967, 1968 and 1975
– He was selected for the Japan national team in his second year at Doshisha University but failed to make the tour to Canada due to injury
– Made his international debut against NZ Universities in 1967, already established as one of the finest players in his position in Japanese rugby 
– He represented his country, Japan Universities and Kansai District Union against several visiting overseas sides
– During his time in the national team between 1967 and 1973, Japan played 38 matches against international opposition. The JRFU awarded caps for 18 of these matches and he played in 16 of them.

Playing career highlights

– He played in the sensational match against the Junior All Blacks in 1968 in Wellington, when his record four tries helped Japan record an historic 23-19 win
– Overall he scored 12 tries on that 1968 tour of New Zealand, of which five were against Poverty Bay
– Played against the touring England XV in 1971 when Japan came tantalisingly close to major upset, losing 6-3
– He took unpaid leave from his employer to be able to develop his game in New Zealand in 1969. He borrowed money from family to be able to survive and joined the Canterbury provincial side, where he made his mark despite the language barrier
– During the six months he spent in New Zealand he played for Canterbury University, Southland Universities, Canterbury and New Zealand Barbarians
– He appeared for Canterbury against West Coast, Mid-Canterbury  and Wellington in 1969
– He played for New Zealand Barbarians, captained by Colin Meads, against the New Zealand Maoris in 1969 and scored two tries
– He played for Canterbury University in 1969 and scored 18 tries, that season’s record for Christchurch senior A league
– He played and scored a try for a Cantabrians XV against the All Blacks returning from their 1973 tour
– He scored a try in his final international match against France at the end of Japan’s 1973 European tour.
– Came out of retirement at the age of 34 to play against the visiting University of Canterbury. The match attracted a large crowd who came to bid a fond farewell to their hero who was carried off the field shoulder-high by his former University of Canterbury teammates.

Coaching career

– Has been the manager and head coach of Osaka University of Health and Sports Sciences team since 1977
– With him at the helm, Osaka University won the Kansai Regional University League five times and reached the last four of the University Championship three times
– He coached the Japan team on their 1979 tour of New Zealand
– He coached Japan A against the All Blacks in 1987 
– He coached Japan Universities in 1988 
– He worked as rugby development coach at Addington Primary School in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2003
– A member of the JRFU Coaching Committee
Rugby administration

– Elected President of the Kansai RFU on 25 April 2012
– Chairman of the Kansai RFU
– Represents Kansai RFU on the JRFU Board of Directors
– IRB Match Commissioner for Tonga v Japan in 2008 
– IRB Citing Commissioner for Fiji v Japan in 2008

Awards and honours

– Elected by the NZ Rugby Almanack as one of the the five outstanding players of the year in 1969 alongside W. Cottrell (Canterbury), Sid Going (North Auckland), Walter Spanghero (France) and Joseph Maso (France) 
– Elected an honorary member of the Cantabrians Rugby Football Club in 1973
– “White Bearer” Sport Award of the Year by Daily Sports newspaper in 1973
– Sports Award of the Year by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper in 1975
– One of the global rugby stars chosen by the FFR to promote RWC 2007
– Guest of honour at the Canterbury RFU’s 125th anniversary celebrations in 2004
– Nominated as a rugby legend at RWC 2007 in France
– Guest of honour at the University of Canterbury RFC’s 125th anniversary
– Appointed a Life Member of the University of Canterbury RFC in New Zealand in 2009

What he said

“I am the person I am today because of rugby. I hope to continue working hard to promote the advancement of rugby.”

“It is indeed a great honour to be inducted into the IRB’s prestigious Hall of Fame. I would like to take this opportunity to offer my sincere gratitude to all those members who have deemed my career and my contribution to rugby as worthy of such a wonderful honour. 

“When I first heard that I was to be honoured in this way, I couldn’t quite believe it, and it still hasn’t really sunk in. My induction into the Hall of Fame does not recognise my achievements only, but also the Japanese rugby family and JRFU for all their hard work and dedication to the sport of rugby over many, many years.”

What the NZ Rugby Almanack said about him

“Yoshihiro Sakata (Doshisha University and Japan), along with others in the side, demonstrated on the tour of New Zealand the high potential as rugby players of the Japanese. In fact, several of the team already possess that quality which places them in the top grade. Not the least is Yoshihiro Sakata, whose performances in New Zealand entitle him to be considered as one of the best wing three-quarters to play on our fields. 

“Speedy, good handler and most intelligent player, Yoshihiro Sakata was an attraction wherever he appeared, and rightly so.” 

“Leading players (1968 New Zealand tour) were Y Sakata, a wing moulded in the RA Jarden lines, and who scored four tries against New Zealand Juniors.” 
Additional reporting Steve Kobayashi