Rugby

Kintetsu Liners' Luke Thompson bids farewell to home fans at Hanazono Rugby Stadium

Kyodo

Veteran lock Luke Thompson, who helped Japan reach the quarterfinals for the first time at this fall’s Rugby World Cup, played his final home match at Hanazono Rugby Stadium on Sunday.

The 38-year-old Thompson, who plans to retire at the end of the season, played in the Kintetsu Liners’ 33-22 win over Toyota Industries Shuttles in the second-tier Top Challenge League.

Fans held banners with messages of appreciation for the local hero and applauded him when he left the pitch in the second half. The Liners drew a crowd of 15,596, an exceptionally large figure for a second-tier game.

“I’m surprised. I was really moved. I feel empty thinking this was my last match at Hanazono,” Thompson, who joined Kintetsu in 2006, said in Japanese.

Born in New Zealand, Thompson made his Japan debut in April 2007 and played in four World Cups. He appeared in four matches for Jamie Joseph’s side at this year’s tournament, including the Brave Blossoms’ quarterfinal loss to eventual champion South Africa.

Kintetsu will play five more matches until it closes the season in January. Its next match is against the Mazda Blue Zoomers in Nagasaki on Dec. 8.

“The most important thing is for the team to win, and it’s not about my last match,” Thompson said. “The season is not over yet.”