TOKYO 18 Oct - Kazuki Himeno's presence has been unmissable in Japan's four pool match victories and his trademark "jackal" move - winning back the ball after a tackle before a ruck is formed - has become synonymous with his name in the host nation.
It was the number eight's jackal that saved Japan against Ireland when the Brave Blossoms were defending their 16-12 lead deep in their own half in the 65th minute. There was another when Japan were hanging on to their 28-21 lead late in their vital final pool game against Scotland.
"My jackals have been good but there are players better at it, such as (Australia flanker Michael) Hooper, who I admire, so I want to hone it more," said the 25-year-old, pictured above.
Himeno was missing from Japan's 41-7 defeat against the Springboks before the World Cup on 6 September because of an ankle injury and is relishing the thought of facing them in the quarter-finals on Sunday, on what will be another historic day for Japan.
"South Africa are one of the best teams in the world so I wanted to play as an experience. Now I've got that chance so I'm nothing but excited," he said. "I'm looking forward to see how much I can carry forward against the physicality of South Africa.
"Each play will affect the final outcome and, in my case, that will be the ball carry. I need to go in low and try not to get chalked as they're big. I need to finish off my driving move. Tactical details will be important, too, so we'll study as a team and try to have the same picture in our head."
Himeno, who ranks third in runs - more than team-mate winger Kotaro Matsushima - at RWC 2019, also has had a boost through his daily exchanges with a South African, Jake White, who coached the Springboks to their 2007 Rugby World Cup triumph and is now coach of Matsishima's Top League club Toyota Verblitz.
"I feel what South Africa are trying to do is similar to what Jake wants to do," he said. "Toyota play the same sort of rugby. I can understand and picture them a bit, so that's a plus."
Himeno took up rugby during junior-high school and graduated from Teikyo University. He was named the captain of Toyota Verblitz in his debut year of 2017, when he also made his first Japan appearance.
He returned to the city to score his first World Cup try against Samoa in the third pool game.
Himeno has been bullish since before the tournament about showing that Japan can compete in the most intense of games and believes that after dispatching two Tier 1 teams they will take on South Africa on Sunday on level terms.
"We sent the message to the world that Japan has the quality to break into Tier 1. It was a massive thing for Japanese rugby. It's pleasing to see the excitement throughout Japan and I hope the rugby culture takes root. It would be great if the Japanese people feel we can compete at this level.
"We've been playing really good rugby and we played with confidence against Ireland and Scotland. So I can confidently say we've been playing well enough for the top level."