• Kyodo

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Highlanders No. 8 Kazuki Himeno was named the Rookie of the Year in New Zealand’s Super Rugby Aotearoa tournament on Tuesday after earning the most points from journalists on the competition’s website.

The Japan international missed the Highlanders’ first three games but played a big role in the forward pack through the five remaining games of the regular season, scoring his maiden Super Rugby try on April 16 in a 35-29 win over the Blues.

The 26-year-old scored 11 points for the award, placing ahead of his teammate and wing Connor Garden-Bachop on 10 points and Blues lock Sam Darry on eight points. Three top-performing rookies from each week were given three, two and one points.

“At 187 centimeters and 108 kilograms, Himeno is an imposing figure at the back of the scrum and is poised to be a key figure for the Highlanders in their Super Rugby Trans-Tasman campaign,” said the website, which described Himeno as “A barn-storming ball runner, punishing defender and tireless worker around the park.”

Himeno was one of the standout performers for Jamie Joseph’s Brave Blossoms at the 2019 World Cup as host Japan reached their first knockout stage of the tournament. They won all their four pool games, including against Ireland and Scotland, before losing to eventual winners South Africa in the last eight.

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