- Associated Press - Thursday, October 20, 2016

TOKYO (AP) - Seiji Hirao, who played in three rugby world cups for Japan and was coach in another, has died. He was 53.

Hirao died in hospital Thursday where he was being treated for an undisclosed illness, his club Kobe Kobelco Steelers announced.

With Hirao at its core, the Steelers were one of the most successful teams in Japan’s domestic league, winning seven successive corporate and national titles between 1989 and 1995.

The popular Hirao won 35 caps for his country, and represented Japan at the 1987, 1991 and 1995 Rugby World Cups.

After retiring as a player, Hirao coached Kobe and the Japan national team, which he led at the 1999 World Cup.

Japan hosts the next world cup in 2019.

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