Fame follows Japan's new rugby hero

By Peter Malcouronne

Mils Muliaina, with son Max in Auckland yesterday, is a star in Japan despite a string of losses. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Mils Muliaina, with son Max in Auckland yesterday, is a star in Japan despite a string of losses. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Mils Muliaina's new-found fame in Japan was obvious as he arrived home for Christmas yesterday.

The former All Black was approached by a group of excitable Japanese visitors wanting a photo as he parked his luggage trolley at Auckland International Airport.

Muliaina had just got home after a 10-hour flight from Tokyo with his wife, Hayley, and 4-year-old son Max.

It has been just over a year since the 32-year-old became the second man to play 100 tests for the All Blacks, the same bittersweet night he broke his shoulder and retired from the team.

Now he's playing for Osaka's NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes in Japan's Top League.

"It's wicked," he told the Herald at the arrival gate. "They're very polite, the Japanese. Humble and gracious."

Unfortunately, things on the field haven't quite gone to plan.

"We've lost 19 games in a row."

Muliaina has also dislocated his finger, which is now in a splint. He'll have it checked, and then return to the fray in a fortnight.

Despite NTT Docomo's poor form, he said he was loving the rugby.

"It's not as intense. But they run a lot. They run everything. When I first started playing, they were tapping the ball five metres out from their own line.

"I'd be like ... 'Man, what are you doing? Have a breather'."

The Muliainas were heading to Invercargill, Mils' old hometown, to see his family before returning to spend Christmas with Hayley's family in Auckland. They return to Japan on December 29.

- NZ Herald

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