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Monday 21 September 2015 | Published in Regional


NAPIER – Japan’s biggest upset in rugby history by beating two-time Rugby World Cup champions South Africa has turned its winning Kiwi try-scorer into a international star.

Winger Karne Hesketh, 30, formerly of Napier, dotted down in dramatic fashion for the Cherry Blossoms as they stunned the Springboks 34-32 in pool play on Saturday morning.

Former Napier Boys’ High School First XV coach Del Whyte said Hesketh’s heroics were sure to make him a folk hero at his old school.

The upset – and Hesketh’s match-clinching try – were the talk of the town on Sunday.

Hesketh was a loose forward under Whyte’s regime and ended up on the wing by chance during a school tour of Argentina when the team was short of backs and Hesketh was sent to play on the wing.

“In those days, his sidestep was just to go straight through them.”

Hesketh developed true sway and sidestep while playing for the Highlanders, he said.

“He was a nice guy and a good kid, congratulations to him - he’s been playing a lot of rugby for a long time.”

Hesketh played for Otago from 2006 before heading to Japan in 2010 to play for the Fukuoka Sanix Blues.

He was chosen for the national side in 2014 and was one of seven Kiwis in the Japanese squad, which also included captain Michael Leitch, Justin Ives, Luke Thompson, Michael Broadhurst, Hendrik Tui and Male Sa’u. Japan-born Highlanders player Fumiaki Tanaka was also in the side.

His father, Wayne Hesketh, said even he doubted Japan had it in them to win the clash. “I was just jumping around, you know, with excitement, as you do.”

His son texted him soon after the win, thanking his family.

Hesketh got into Japan’s team to get into international rugby after he failed to make the All Blacks, his father said.

“He may as well go somewhere else and try and he has, and he stuck by it and he’s done well.”

Hesketh’s partner, Black Fern Carla Hohepa, joined the chorus in congratulating the team – and their unlikely victory – on Twitter.

On Sunday, Japan’s stunning victory was celebrated around the world in international media.

Of the 34 New Zealand-born players in foreign teams Samoa and Tonga have 17 between them, Australia have four and Ireland, England, Scotland, France and Romania all have at least one. The tournament also features six New Zealand-born coaches.