Kenta Fukuda Returns: "Closing the Game as a Finisher."

The scrum-half who withdrew just before the season opening has made a comeback. Announced on January 12th, Kenta Fukuda's name is included in the squad for the first time this season, set to play against Hanazono Kintetsu Liners on the 14th. This marks his first real action since the match against Shuttles Aichi on December 2nd of last year.

"Although I couldn't get my body right for the season start, I was able to focus on what I needed to do." Last season, he played in all 16 matches, starting 10 and coming off the bench for 6. It's been a while for him to be back in the frontline., since he watched the games as an observer. In the meantime, Aaron Smith wore the number 9 jersey. There was a lot for him to absorb in the process of making his way back.

"The way he leads the team, even just attending the leader meetings, is a learning experience for me.” Being a scrum-half involves cohesions with many other positions. With the line-out jumpers, it's about ball delivery; with the hooker, it's about where to put the ball in the scrum; with the fly-half, it's about play options based on various situations. Aaron Smith didn't miss any details in the week prior to his game. "He’s aware of every situation that may occur in the game. So, small meetings are important. I saw what the role of the number 9 is off the field."

However, he doesn't intend to lag behind. "There are voices from the outside saying my opportunities will be limited, but I don't see it negatively. If it’s a 'please take my jersey' situation for Aaron, he won’t grow either. I want to put the pressure on him too."

Fukuda will wear the number 21 on Sunday. In modern rugby, the role of the scrum-half is quite different between starting and substituting. This aligns with the issues identified in the previous Saitama Wild Knights match. "(The Wild Knights match) We couldn't close the game where we needed to as a team. I want to make sure I control the closing part of the game as a finisher." The prospect of utilizing the two scrum-halves who experienced the World Cup brings much excitement. With Fukuda's return, there seem to be more options in the team's strategies.

Siosaia Fifita, who will play his former team, also attended the pre-match press conference. If Captain Kazuki Himeno and Fukuda are involved, three Japan national squad members from the World Cup will be on the field together.

Fifita has been starting at number 13 since the season start, continuing with full appearances. He excels in ball-carrying and physicality, becoming an essential presence as the trigger of the team’s attack. Until now, he played as a wing in the national team. Last year, due to injuries, his opportunities were limited, but he firmly asserts, "If I can choose, I prefer center."

"I like playing center more. From now on, I want to express my colors and earn the Japan's 12 and 13 jerseys." Being positioned in the midfield allows him to leverage his strength in physicality. “I want to focus on not losing the physical battle in both attack and defense, and on top of that, to use my skills to help the guys around me." His micro-skills honed at Tenri University are also a massive weapon. He awaits to showcase his abilities fully at Hanazono Rugby Stadium, where he has been familiar since his university days.




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