Who Scored the Most Tries in Rugby Union?

Like every other sport in the world, victory in rugby is determined by the number of points an individual or a team scores against their opponent(s). One could however argue, and quite convincingly at that, that scoring in the rugby union is considerably more difficult as compared to their peers. This is so because of many reasons with the heightened level of physicality and the carefully-crafted offensive and defensive schemes topping the list. There are nevertheless those who have overcome these near-insurmountable odds to establish themselves as reliable and routine try-scorers. Who has scored the most tries in Rugby Union? Former Japanese ace Daisuke Ohata currently holds the record for the most tries scored in the Rugby Union with an impressive 69. The retired speedster also boasts of the highest try per match ratio of 1.19 having attained the feat in only 58 test matches.

Born to Play

Though little is known of Ohata’s early life, one thing is for sure – the Japanese ace was made for the sport of rugby. Growing up, Ohata was an obviously talented and athletic boy. Hailing from the Kansai region in the southern-central region of Honshū (Japan’s main island), Ohata display an early preference for rugby which led him to be enrolled in several rugby nurseries.

Rugby can only be described as a moderately popular sport in Japan. It makes the list of the top five most popular sports in the country but plays second fiddle to baseball, soccer, and arguably one of the oldest sports in the history of the world in Sumo Wrestling.

Ohata then transitioned to Tokai Dai Gyosei High School where he continued to sharpen his skills. It was at this high school that the 2016 World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee met his classmates and future baseball stars Yoshinori Tateyama and Koji Uehara.

The speedster stayed the course and developed the necessary speed and stamina to distinguish him from the rest of the field. Ohata then attended Kyoto Sangyo University. It is at the higher education institution that the former Kobelco Steelers is believed to have developed a flair for playing on the wing and occasionally at centre. Ohata had a notable club career having made a total of 69 appearances and scored 230 points for the Kobelco Steelers and top-flight French rugby union side and two-time French champions ASM Clermont Auvergne. He is however renowned for his stellar exploits on the international stage, which have carved out a place for him in rugby history.

Style of Play

A glance at the soft-spoken character that is Ohata can hardly provide a hint of his greatness. Even in his stellar rugby career that spanned over a decade, the Japanese could only be best described as a quiet professional – a player who let his actions, and not his words, speak for him.

Some may want to water down Ohata’s achievements by alleging that he competed against a field of somewhat inferior talent. Such arguments are especially common among the fans of former record holder David Campese of Australia.

That couldn’t however be further from the truth as an objective look at the era shows that it was dominated by a number of greats including James “The Bullet” Dalton (South Africa), ex-Australian skipper John “Nobody” Eales, and strongman Craig Dowd of New Zealand and fellow teammate Josh Kronfeld and Keven Mealamu.

For Ohata to have made a name for himself, let alone wind up as the all-time leading try-scorer, only one explanation can be offered up – he excelled regardless of the opposition which included rugby-centric countries like Wales, Argentina, France, and Ireland. Rugby historians have gone on the record to describe Ohata as having been a brilliant and crafty player whose natural ability to read and take apart defenses was only but complemented by his ridiculous and almost inhuman speed.

Proof of Concept

For one to truly appreciate Ohata’s greatness, one need only look at his performance at the 2000 Tokyo Sevens outing against perennial contenders and four-time rugby world champions, South Africa. As a variant of rugby union, rugby sevens may lack the same degree of difficulty or duration but would provide a test for Ohata outside what he was mostly associated with – speed.

Going into the match, Japan was expected to take a pummeling from the obviously more physically gifted and battle-tested South Africans and they would have had it not been for Ohata and the spectacular tries he made on that fateful afternoon on April 1.

Their coach’s strategy for the match appears to have been brilliant, if not direct – get Ohata the ball and get out of the way. For his first try, Ohata received a pass on the left wing and temporarily lulled South Africa’s defense to sleep with a steady trot before unleashing a burst of speed that left the opposing players in his wake.

His second try was arguably the best in the match. This time, he received a pass on the right wing and proceeded at an exceedingly fast pace before abruptly stopping and making a quick cut to his left. The unexpected change in direction allowed him to beat three opposing players who were hot on his trails to earn his side another five points.

The last try was a little more challenging. By that point, South Africa had read into Japan’s strategy and started crowding the wings, especially the one that Ohata was on. The Cherry Blossoms however adjusted their strategy to reduce the distance the Ohata would have to cover on the open field.

Their plan worked as Ohata ultimately received a well-timed pass when he was about 20 yards (18.29 meters) away from the try line. Covering the distance was no problem for Ohata as he stifled a final tackle attempt before registering his third and final try of the match. Japan ended up winning the Pool D fixture 24-19 to top the group with eight points ahead of South Africa, Samoa, and Malaysia. Ohata’s consistent performances throughout the tournament led them to finish in fifth place and clinch the competition’s Plate trophy.

Attaining Legendary Status

Ohata broke David Campese’s record of 64 tries after scoring a third try in Japan’s match against Georgia in mid-May 2006. He scored another four tries in three tests to set the bar at 69 tries. Ohata would have continued to add to his tally were it not for back-to-back Achilles tendon ruptures – one to either foot.

The injuries forced him to miss the 2007 Rugby World Cup and a chance to extend his record further. Ohata finally called time on his illustrious career after sustaining a serious knee injury in January 2011.

His contributions to rugby were finally acknowledged after he was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame a decade after he last suited up in 2006. Ohata remains an ambassador of the sport and was even officially appointed in that capacity for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Ohata’s record is likely to stand for years to come as there are only five active players with a chance to challenge it. The top two of the lot are George North (Wales) and Beauden Barrett (New Zealand). The pair, however, have significantly lower try per match ratios at 0.43 and 0.39 respectively meaning Ohata’s record is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.

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