TOKYO, 18 Sep - Four years after he first quit international rugby and two years since he returned and retired a second time, Japan second-row Luke Thompson is preparing to take his final bow with the Brave Blossoms - and this time he means it.
Fifteen years after he arrived in the host nation and 12 since his first international appearance, Christchurch-born Thompson is about to play in his fourth Rugby World Cup, and he intends to savour the experience.
"This is definitely my last. I'm really looking forward to it - though I'm 38 and had just about enough," said Thompson in the dialect of Japan's Kansai region.
"This is my last World Cup and rugby season. So it's a bit special."
After leaving New Zealand in 2004, Thompson spent two seasons with Sanyo Wild Knights in Ota before joining Kintetsu Liners in Osaka - currently in the second-tier Top Challenge League - where the local favourite will play his last matches in professional rugby before hanging up his boots for good in January.
The second-row repeatedly put his body on the line four years ago, making 13 tackles as Japan famously beat South Africa 34-32 in Brighton. Thompson went on to play in all four games as the Brave Blossoms became the first team to win three group matches and not advance to the knockout stage.
Thompson called time on his international career after that memorable campaign but returned to make a one-off appearance for an injury-hit Japan against Ireland in June 2017. He retired again after that 35-13 defeat, but the desire to represent Japan never went away, especially with a home Rugby World Cup on the horizon.
If he comes off the bench in the opening game against Russia on Friday Thompson will become the oldest player to represent Japan in the World Cup.
"The Rugby World Cup is a special event and even more so with this being the first in Japan and Asia," said Thompson, who made his Super Rugby debut this year with the Sunwolves.
"Four years ago I really meant it but I decided to take on the challenge last year as I began to feel like having a shot. Now I've got that chance so I'm ready to give what I have."
Japan will need to eclipse their predecessors' achievements to fulfil their aim of reaching the last eight but Thompson is confident head coach Jamie Joseph has done everything right to this point.
"All the World Cups differ - the place, the team, the squad, the staff - so it's hard to compare but what I can tell you is this team has had a great preparation," he said.
"Fitness levels are super high and we've gone up a level in strength when making contact.
"We've got great confidence in our game plan. I'm not saying the preparations for the previous teams were bad at all, but I'm really looking forward to this one. This team's getting there at its peak."
Thompson is hoping to add more caps to the 67 he already has for the nation which granted him citizenship in 2010.
"I can't believe I'm in it for the fourth time. Before I came to Japan 15 years ago it was impossible to think about making four World Cups," he said.
"But now I'm really proud. I take huge pride in putting on the Japan jersey."