9 Oct 2019

Rugby World Cup - A towering Kiwi teen makes his mark in Japan

From Checkpoint, 6:25 pm on 9 October 2019

Seventeen-year-old Warner Dearns stands out in Japan for a number of reasons.

While there are many New Zealand professional players and coaches plying their trade in the country, there aren't many Kiwi teens doing the same.

But Dearns, originally from Hawkes Bay, is a lock in the first XV for his Kashiwa High School north of Tokyo, as well as playing in representative rugby teams.

New Zealand teenager Warner Dearns lives in Japan playing rugby for his high school.

New Zealand teenager Warner Dearns lives in Japan playing rugby for his high school. Photo: RNZ / Joe Porter

The son of former Silver Ferns netballer Tanya Dearns and dad Grant, a trainer for the Green Rockets Top League team, Warner happens to be tall - six foot seven inches tall.

"Obviously I stand out quite a lot; head and shoulders above most people.

"Walking through Tokyo you could get quite a few people who stop and stare... There's quite a bit of interest in the big tall foreigner with blonde hair who looks very different from what other people look like."

While his size is an advantage on the rugby field, it can also prove problematic off it.

"The cramped up subways trains are probably the worst; that is quite horrible. Your cramped up shoulders are up around your neck."

Dodging through human traffic is hard for anyone in Tokyo, and saying sumimasen - or sorry - is a common occurrence, however, Dearns' size gives him a edge when push comes to shove.

"When we first got here it was sorry, sorry. But eventually you get to learn to be like other people and just walk straight ahead, otherwise you would spend your life dodging people."

Warner has loved his Japanese experience and his new teammates, though the model of high school rugby is intense, with training all year round, even under the heat of the summer sun.

"Some days it's 38, 39 degrees and with the sun glaring down, reflecting off the artificial turf, it is pretty tough."

Grant and Warner Dearns.

Grant and Warner Dearns. Photo: Supplied / Grant Dearns

Training in that heat means a lot of calories get burnt and Dearns has to consume vast quantities of a Japanese staple to keep the weight on.

"I have a kilo of rice just for dinner. For morning I have rice, for lunch there's rice and then dinner, rice."

And that's where Warner's Dad Grant comes in, a strength and conditioning coach, he makes sure his son is well fed.

"Luckily I get paid enough to provide food for him. He eats far more than I remember eating at that age."

Grant and Warner have been in Japan for a couple of years now, while mum Tanya works for Netball Cairns and lives there with her daughter Kyra.

Grant said it's harder for him than it is his teenage son.

"He is of that age when he doesn't always want to talk to family. For me I just don't get that time talking to my wife, except on the phone. You just can't spend the same quality time."

Now-former Central Pulse coach Tanya Dearns

Former Silver Fern and Central Pulse coach Tanya Dearns is the mother of Warner. Photo: Photosport

Grant Dearns has embraced the Japanese culture, though he concedes some aspects grind his gears.

"We appreciate so many things about the Japanese culture. There is so much respect and courtesy. But it can be a bit frustrating at times. We get emails at work about some of the boys riding with one hand on the handlebars rather than two - not obeying the bike rules."

Warner harbours dreams of being an All Black and says the love for the World Champions runs deep in Japan.

"They are absolutely loved, it is crazy. When they came over here and had a camp, you'd walk through the station and you'd just see black jerseys everywhere."

His Kashiwa school performed a haka for five of the All Blacks.

If he continues on his path, Warner may well end up performing the haka an All Black himself.