• Reuters, AFP-Jiji, Kyodo

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Lock Hitoshi Ono, the most-capped Japan international of all time with 98 caps, will retire from rugby at the age of 42, his team Toshiba Brave Lupus said on Monday.

Ono, who was part of Eddie Jones’ Japan side that beat South Africa in a historic upset at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, made his final appearance for the Brave Blossoms against Scotland in June 2016, falling just two caps short of reaching a century.

He did not feature in Japan’s history-making side that reached the 2019 rugby World Cup quarter-finals at home, with veteran locks Luke Thomson and James Moore preferred in the Japanese engine room.

At 37, he was the oldest man to represent Japan when he took the field for his last cap, with then-coach Jones hailing an “unbelievable achievement” — and putting his long career down to some unusual skills.

“He’s an incredibly tough player and that is why he’s picked,” said Jones at the time.

“If you want a strong child make sure they get brought up on a dairy farm, deliver the papers every morning, drink 10 beers a night,” added Jones in typically light-hearted comments.

Toshiba announced his retirement following 19 years with the Top League club, during which he won four titles. He also made 12 appearances in Super Rugby for the Sunwolves.

This year’s season of the Top League, Japan’s main domestic competition, has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ono, who was nicknamed the “Iron Man,” made his debut in 2004 against South Korea before featuring at three World Cups for Japan.

Relatively short for a lock at 196 cm, he managed to score 13 tries in his international career but none against top-tier opposition. He also captained Japan seven times.

Originally from Fukushima, Ono was a baseball player in high school and university but switched to rugby at 18 after being courted by the rugby team.

Some of Japan’s 2019 World Cup squad are trying to chase Ono’s record, including Toshiba teammate Michael Leitch who has 68 caps and scrumhalf Fumiaka Tanaka who has 75.

The Brave Lupus said Ono will hold a news conference on Friday.

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