Japan's try-scoring hero in their shock win over the Spingboks was an "explosive" schoolboy athlete in Hawke's Bay before he shifted south and became a "block-busting" winger.

Replacement back Karne Hesketh's extra-time touchdown has written the 30-year-old into rugby history.

He is part of a strong Kiwi contingent in the Japanese team, including captain Michael Leitch, Luke Thompson and Michael Broadhurst.

Fumiaki Tanaka plays for the Highlanders and Otago too.

Karne Hesketh scoring for Otago. Photo / Peter McIntosh
Karne Hesketh scoring for Otago. Photo / Peter McIntosh

Schooled at Napier Boys' High School, Hesketh was part of a successful 1st XV early last decade, as a flanker.

It was only later he turned himself into a backline runner.

"We had a really good side in that era," school headmaster Ross Brown said.

He was up early and watched some of the match, but didn't see it all and went to bed listening to updates.

Hesketh didn't start and Mr Brown said he would have viewed the entire game if he had.

"We're very proud of him [and] all these guys who do well on a world stage, but particularly in such a significant event for world rugby, that's probably why we're delighted.

"It's always great to see them playing and you knew them well as kids. I've been away on a prefects camp with Karne."

Hesketh was a strong all-round athlete and excelled at the high jump too.


"He's a chunky fella but he's powerful and very explosive," Mr Brown said.

"He was a very good flanker and you could imagine someone with his speed, power and agility. He really got around."

Hesketh headed to Dunedin for university and ended up playing for Otago from 2006 to 2010.

While studying he met his partner Carla Hohepa. Both played for the Alhambra-Union Rugby Football Club and Hohepa represented New Zealand.

Karne Hesketh playing for Alhambra Union. Photo / Craig Baxter
Karne Hesketh playing for Alhambra Union. Photo / Craig Baxter

Alhambra club captain Hugh Tait, who watched a replay of today's match, said Hesketh was part of a successful era for club, where they won the local competition a couple of times and regularly made the play-offs.

"When he was playing for us he was outstanding. He used to be a flanker. He came to us as a flanker but I think he realised he wasn't going to be big enough and he said he wanted to be a winger.

"He was just a blockbusting runner. He ran around people, over people, he was great."

Mr Tait was the club's premier team's manager and recalled Hesketh's ferocious strength and attitude to training.

For Otago he set training records in squats, leg presses and box jumps that were yet to be beaten a couple of years ago.

Hesketh left for Japan in 2010, although last year and he and Hohepa called in to the club on a trip home.

Mr Tait said the club might arrange something for Japan's next cup games.

"I'll have to have a look at the schedule and see what time they are playing."