TOKYO, 20 Oct - Few people would argue that Japan have been the revelation of Rugby World Cup 2019. Their fast-paced game combined with exciting but controlled offloading, and some of the best tries of the tournament, have made the host nation a joy to watch.
The Brave Blossoms have many candidates whose efforts deserve to be highlighted as they go into their quarter-final against South Africa, but we have decided to focus on hooker Shota Horie.
Hookers tend to tackle, carry and make turnovers, in addition to their critical role of throwing the ball in at lineouts. At Rugby World Cup 2019, Horie has been one of the elite players in these departments. His 54 tackles have been bettered only by three players and no front rows.
Only two front-row players - Joe Taufete'e of USA and Tolu Latu (Australia) - have carried further than Horie's 36m. The Japanese No.2's carries have also been very effective in moving the attack forward, as this clip against Ireland illustrates.
From an Ireland lineout at halfway, Horie spots that the ball may reach him at the back and is already moving at some speed as he collects it. His subsequent carry moves Japan several metres up the field and they progress towards the Ireland 22. The move ends when Ireland concede a penalty in front of the posts, which Yu Tamura scores to reduce the Brave Blossoms' deficit to six points (6-12) after 34 minutes.
Horie has beaten five defenders on his rampaging runs in this tournament. No player in the front row of any team has beaten more defenders. He has also made 18 passes and two offloads in his four matches, the highest numbers for any front-row forward at this Rugby World Cup.
Few front-rows have made it into double figures for passing and Horie's combination of high numbers for tackling, carries and passing is unique.
Horie's attacking skill was prominent in Japan's second try against Scotland, as the clip below shows. He receives the ball from first receiver Tamura and immediately pirouettes out of an attempted tackle from Scotland number eight Blade Thomson.
With no time to think, Horie is tackled by his opposite number Fraser Brown but manages to offload the ball in the tackle to Pieter Labuschagne. The move continues via William Tupou before Keita Inagaki scores one of the tries of the tournament.
Horie is a genuine example of an all-round forward. He has all the skills that are expected from a front-row but can also pass accurately, offload and even kick occasionally. He would probably be the hooker in the team of the tournament at this stage but his greatest challenge comes in Sunday's quarter-final.