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Tanaka in place to break new ground in Super Rugby

KYODO

A day ahead of the Super Rugby Final against the Hurricanes, Japan and Highlanders scrumhalf Fumiaki Tanaka worked out on his own on Friday.

If Tanaka gets into the game at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium, he’ll be the first Japanese to play in the final of the Southern Hemisphere’s premier provincial competition. As he did in last Saturday’s semifinal, Tanaka will start the all-New Zealand final against the Wellington-based Hurricanes on the bench.

“Whether I play or not, what’s important is that the team wins,” said Tanaka, who came on in the closing seconds and was on the pitch at the end of Highlander’s 35-17 semifinal victory over the Sydney-based Waratahs.

“I was happy to be on the field, on that big stage.”

Playing behind All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith, Tanaka has played sparingly and rarely started for the Otago-based franchise, and the Panasonic Wild Knights spark plug said, “It’s frustrating not being able to play.”

“As I have up until now, I just want to be completely prepared. If I do play, I want to execute team plays according to our plan.”

While Tanaka will be flying the flag for Japan, Highlanders’ connection with Japan’s Top League is a broad one. Coach Jamie Joseph is a former Fukuoka Sanix Blues player and advisor, while former Panasonic player and coach Tony Brown is an attack coach. Another assistant, Scott McLeod, played in Japan for Toshiba Brave Lupus.