CARDIFF, WALES - A family ceramic business has ensured Japanese rugby player Ayumu Goromaru is counted among the stars of the game by modeling a 9-inch caricature figure after him — considered an accolade in the rugby world.
The World of Groggs, based in Pontypridd, Wales, specializes in small handmade figures, or “groggs,” and is known for its caricatures of sports stars — particularly rugby players.
Within the rugby community it is widely considered a badge of honor to be made into a grogg, as a figure will only be modeled if there is enough public demand.
Richard Hughes, who creates the figures, started working on the Japan fullback after the Rugby World Cup in England last year, and has recently completed the figure.
He chose to make Goromaru because he was “blown away” by how the Brave Blossoms played at the tournament, catching global attention with their shock victory against South Africa.
The kicker Goromaru stood out in particular, Hughes said when he first started the project.
“I’d seen him play, and I’d noticed his peculiar stance he does before he kicks,” Hughes said.
“Although as a team they were performing well, I thought he was an outstanding performer. And when you’re making something, when you’re a sculptor, when you’re looking for something unusual, that stance sort of just jumped out at me. So I couldn’t wait to make him,” he explained.
Now that it’s complete, Hughes said Goromaru was “the most complicated 9-inch figure” he has ever made.
“I chose to make Goromaru in his classic pose when he kicks at goal, which made it more complicated to paint due to his hands and the finger tape around them being very prominent,” he said.
Not only that, the patterned Brave Blossom rugby kit added complexity compared to others such as New Zealand’s All Black kit.
While details such as strapping on arms and legs are sometimes omitted, Hughes said for Goromaru he felt it would “spoil the look” if they weren’t there.
Although the plan is to make 300 Goromaru groggs before destroying the mould for the figure, they anticipate it will take a few years to reach that count.
Goromaru is only the second Japanese rugby player to be honored as a grogg model, following Yuji Matsuo, who played 24 tests for Japan between 1974 to 1984.
The Goromaru figure, however, took more than eight months longer than expected to complete, during which time the former Yamaha Jubilo fullback has racked up the air miles.
Following the Rugby World Cup, Goromaru moved to Queensland, Australia, to play Super Rugby for the Reds before signing for Toulon this summer.
After a long injury, he made his first appearances for the French Top 14 side in early November.
From Wales, Hughes continues to follow the Japanese rugby player’s career.
“It has been interesting to see how Goromaru has progressed since the World Cup. He has become the most famous Japanese rugby player. He has played in Australia and is now in Toulon with many famous rugby greats, like Ma’a Nonu, Matt Giteau and from Wales. … Leigh Halfpenny,” Hughes said.
“We hope Ayumu is enjoying his rugby in the beautiful south of France and I watch the French games here in Wales and think of his great World Cup (performance),” he added.
It is not only in Wales that Goromaru has made an impression.
Rugby kicking legend Jonny Wilkinson, who finished his playing career at Toulon, described Goromaru as “just an enormously solid, humble, exciting individual and a great team guy.
“He seems to carry a huge amount of expectation and pressure on his shoulders, but deals with it enormously well,” he said at the opening of World Rugby’s Hall of Fame where he was inducted.
“I think it’s very difficult to become a leader without actually going on your own journey in a very inspiring way, and I think that’s what he’s doing. He’s doing his thing, he’s doing it his way, and that’s what’s inspiring those around him.”