Former Southern Kings and EP centre Shane Gates has embraced life in Japan following his first season in the Far East.
Shane Gates was identified as an exciting upcoming talent from the Eastern Cape at a young age. After playing for the EP U18 Craven Week and U19 teams during his matric year, the Muir College old boy found himself in the senior squads at the Kings during his first season of professional rugby.
After six seasons at the PE-based union, which included many ups and downs, Gates decided to look abroad for opportunities, where he landed a deal with Japanese club the Shining Arcs.
“With the unsettled scenario of events, I realised that I needed to make the most of every opportunity during my rugby career. It’s disappointing to have experienced certain things at the Kings, especially seeing some of my team-mates and friends suffer due to circumstances that were out of their hands. It made me realise that life as rugby player is very short, so I decided to go to Japan for better opportunities,” Gates told MyPlayers.
“The Japanese people were very accommodating. Yes, the language barrier is a bit tough, but their friendliness and helpfulness definitely make up for it. Off the field, I get to experience a new culture, and my girlfriend and I get to travel a lot more, which we didn’t get to do before. Being based in Tokyo has been awesome.
“On the field, I’ve learned a lot. I work with coaches like Rob Penney, who was head coach at Munster, and Hugh Reece-Edwards, who coached at the Sharks. The Japanese game is very fast-paced. Yes, there are mistakes, but that’s because they try to give the ball a lot of air. I’m working really hard on my skills and kicking game. As a centre, I want to play as a second flyhalf in the backline.”
In the Shining Arcs squad, Gates found himself among two other South Africans in flank Willie Britz and flyhalf Elton Jantjies. Gates said both players offered value during his first season in Japan.
“Willie was like my big brother during the season. Having played there during the before, he taught me a lot on and off the field, which was great. It’s great to see him in the Sunwolves squad and I hope they enjoy some success during the Super Rugby season,” said Gates.
“I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Elton because of his Springbok duty, but I made the most of his experience when he was around. I know Elton had a long season, having played a full season of Super Rugby and Test rugby for the Boks. However, it was great to see the club’s approach to his well-being. When he returned from international duty, he was rested for two weeks before he played his first game.
“I know it’s tough for South African players to balance their careers back home and in Japan, but I know the clubs do what they can to take the players’ best interests at heart.”
With the Japanese domestic season ending in January, Gates is currently spending some off time with family and friends back home in Port Elizabeth. He will return to Japan in May, where he hopes to achieve bigger goals.
“I was invited to join the Sunwolves squad for Super Rugby this season, but I knew my body needed a rest. I played Super Rugby for the Kings last year and went straight into the Japanese season, so another seven months of rugby would’ve been bad for the body,” said Gates.
“I’m off until May, which is very long. It’s not something I’m used to, but I look forward to making the most of my opportunities next year. I want to do well for my club and hopefully play my way into the Sunwolves squad for the next Super Rugby season. I’ve also had talks about playing Test rugby for Japan, which is very exciting. I love the country and it’s definitely something I would consider.
“I wouldn’t turn my back on South Africa, especially if an exciting offer comes my way, but like I said, a rugby player’s career is very short so I want to make the most of every opportunity.”
By Gareth Duncan