Wild Knights hoping to send Horie, Uchida off in style

Wild Knights hoping to send Horie, Uchida off in style

Saitama Wild Knights veterans Shota Horie and Keisuke Uchida head into Sunday's Japan Rugby League One final hoping not just to help their teammates pick up more silverware and end the season unbeaten, but also to sign off on their stellar careers on a high.

Hooker Horie and scrumhalf Uchida both announced earlier in the year that this season would be their last, bringing to an end careers that have won them plaudits around the world.

"It would be nice to send Horie and Uchi packing with another trophy and another medal and finish their career on a high. They both deserve it," said South Africa and Wild Knights center Damian de Allende after the weekend's semifinal win over Yokohama Eagles.

Horie represented Otago in New Zealand's provincial ITM Cup, was the second Japanese player to play Super Rugby when he suited up for the Melbourne Rebels in 2013, played for the Sunwolves for four years and represented his country 76 times.

"Shota is a fantastic player," said de Allende, who was part of the Springboks side that won the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and 2023.

"I have seen some highlights of him when he was a bit younger and he looked more like a center than a hooker. He has an incredible skillset and he backs it and he believes that he can execute under tough conditions and in a high-pressure environment."

"He's had a fantastic career and been a great icon for world rugby."

Uchida, who won the first of his 22 Japan caps in 2012 while at the University of Tsukuba, helped Tasman win the ITM Cup in 2019 and also played for the Sunwolves.

"When I first came here in 2019 and saw him, I was a bit shocked because he wasn't in their World Cup squad and I couldn't understand why, because he was so good," said de Allende. "He had just come back from playing in the ITM Cup in New Zealand where his team won it and he has also achieved a lot in his career."

Horie and Uchida were both used off the bench as the Wild Knights clawed their way back to beat a valiant Eagles side and book their spot in Sunday's final against Brave Lupus Tokyo.

"It wasn't at the forefront of our minds but obviously we would love to do that," said Saitama coach Robbie Deans when asked if giving Horie and Uchida one more game was the reason for his team's comeback and courageous defense.

"Sentiment tends to get in the way on these occasions but now we have given ourselves the chance, it is better than not. And they deserve it."

Deans said Uchida in particular was relieved with the win over the Eagles.

"Because of injuries we couldn't put Uchi in the game until (the last minute) so if his career had finished on that note he would have been pretty grumpy. But he understands what the team is about. He is a great team man and does what the team needs."

Craig Millar, who has packed down in the front row alongside Horie for the Wild Knights, the Sunwolves and the Brave Blossoms, said while the team's main goal is to win yet another championship, the two veterans will also be in their thoughts.

"It's a team-first focus as it's playoff footy, but those two guys are special for our team," the New Zealand-born prop said.

"I can't speak highly enough of the contribution they have made to the club and the environment. Hopefully we will send them off well."

Whatever the result, Horie appears ready to move on.

"I have been playing rugby my whole life without any regrets, I have had enough," he said.

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