Super 18

Super Rugby 2016

Goromaru v Sunwolves: bumper crowd expected as World Cup hero takes on Super Rugby newbies from Japan

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 May, 2016, 2:58pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 May, 2016, 2:59pm

Japanese poster boy Ayumu Goromaru is expected to draw one of Queensland Reds' biggest crowds of the Super Rugby season when he faces the Tokyo-based Sunwolves on Saturday.

The 30-year-old fullback and Hendrik Tui will line up against some of their Japanese international team-mates when the Sunwolves play in Australia for the first time.

World Cup hero Goromaru controversially snubbed the newly formed Sunwolves to join the Reds, but he has struggled to hold down a regular spot.

Goromaru will make only his third start on Saturday, with regular fullback Karmichael Hunt sidelined with a groin injury.

While Goromaru enjoys celebrity status in Japan, he is less well known in Brisbane where the Reds compete with sports like rugby league and Australian Rules for attention.

He said this week it had been a tough season in the newly expanded Super Rugby competition, which he joined from Japan's domestic league.

“It’s really been a trial by fire,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“There are a lot of different aspects to this league, which I haven’t experienced before. For example, the long travel to South Africa and then backing up for a game the following week.

“The physicality of the league and just the level of play ... I’ve learned a lot and it’s been a great experience.”

Goromaru shot to stardom after he kicked 24 points in the Brave Blossoms’ 34-32 stunning upset win over South Africa at the Rugby World Cup in England last year.

This is likely to be Goromaru’s only season with the Reds amid reports that he will head to big-spending French club Toulon later this year.

But there is high Japanese interest in Goromaru’s progress in Australia and media conferences conducted in Japanese are regularly held after Reds matches, while the club’s merchandise sales in Japan have soared.

“I think we all learned a lot from our appearance in the World Cup and I think it’s a great opportunity for us to show the Australian public Japanese rugby,” Goromaru said.

Reds officials are expecting several tour groups to arrive from Japan in time for Saturday’s match.

“The Sunwolves are a quality outfit who were unlucky not to beat the Stormers last week and had a great win over the Jaguares recently in Tokyo,” Reds co-interim head coach Matt O’Connor said.