New Zealand-born Luke Thompson, who has had a long and illustrious career with the Japan national team, talks about how he was forced to further his professional career abroad after he was knocked down the pecking order at Canterbury in 2004. Just three years later, Luke made his debut for Japan after qualifying through residency and went onto achieve 63 test caps and played in three Rugby World Cups. Luke says earning his first international cap and beating the Springboks at the 2015 tournament are the highlights of his career.
Luke discusses the reasons for taking a break from international Rugby for a couple years after the 2011 Rugby World Cup and that returning to New Zealand to continue his professional career was never a motiving factor. Rugby in Japan is on the rise, although to be able to compete with the top nations on a regular basis, Luke believes that the structure at professional level needs to change, as most of the players are still company workers, while more interest needs to be generated at school level.
Following the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Luke announced his retirement from international Rugby, but was brought back for a test against Ireland in Tokyo in June this year. Luke insists that it was more of a physical challenge than a mental one to come back and play for Japan after a two year absence. He has since announced his international retirement for a second time and won’t be lured back out again by the prospect of playing in the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
At 36 years old, calling it a day on professional Rugby as a whole is on the horizon for Luke and he admits that his plans for the future include heading back to Christchurch with his family to farm deer for a living and is also interested in TV commentary. Luke is also involved with the 100 World Legends Charity Project and stresses the importance of giving back to Rugby in a charitable way after the sport has given him so much for over a decade.
“Knowing that you are one injury away or one drop in form and selection away from your career ending, having something to go to is very important in this day and age. You can’t finish Rugby and live off what you have earned.” – Luke Thompson (Japan International Lock)