International Rugby Stars Flock to JRLO 2023-2024
Several international high-profile men’s rugby players have been involved with the Japan Rugby League One (and the prior Top League) but the JRLO 2023-3024 season is set to feature a record number of All Blacks, with several Springboks, Wallabies and others already competing with more expected to be announced following the conclusion of RWC 2023.
Feature Photo Credit: Akihiro Sanami
All Blacks Confirmed for JRLO 2023-2024 Season
Recently, several All Black stars have confirmed they will be heading to Japan and joining the JRLO next season. The players include Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett (both Toyota Verblitz), Ardie Savea, and Brodie Retallick (Kobelco Steelers). Smith, Barrett and Retallick were all members of New Zealand’s victorious RWC 2015 side in England.
Richie M’ounga and Shannon Frizzell already confirmed they signed for Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo, while unconfirmed rumours suggest Rieko Ioane might make the move to join the Black Rams.
Under the existing NZR Board policy, players such as Savea are taking a sabbatical and will be immediately eligible to be selected by the All Blacks on his return to NZ in 2024. A similar arrangement was previously made for other long-serving All Blacks such as Barrett, Retallick, and Whitelock. Other who have confirmed to head to Japan are nearing the end of their international and professional careers.
This means the JRLO 2023-2024 will likely feature several NZ XV players who should be selected in the RWC 2023 squad layer this year in France.
In total, this confirmed group have 465 test appearances at the start of 2023 and has collectively attended nine Rugby World Cups.
(Following the RWC 2019 hosted in Japan, as many as seven All Blacks (including Barrett and Retallick)
played in the final Top League.
Springboks – Now A Regular Feature in JRLO
The 2022 Springbok tour squad to Europe at the end of the 2022 season featured as many as ten players with current or recent Japan Rugby League One experience. Many playing this season also have a good chance of featuring at the RWC 2023.
- Pieter Steph du Toit (Verblitz)
- Malcolm Marx (Spears)
- Faf de Klerk (Eagles)
- Jesse Kriel (Eagles)
- Damien de Allende (Wild Knights)
- Lood de Jager (Wild Knights)
- Kwagga Smith (Blue Revs)
- Franco Mostert (Mie Honda Heat)
- Francois Marais (Urayasu D-Rocks)
- Willie le Roux (XXX)
More International Rugby Stars to Join JRLO 2023-2024?
Several Wallaby stars have been playing in Japan including Quade Cooper, Bernard Foley, Samu Kerevi, Sean McMahon, Liam Gill, Nick Phipps, Tom Banks, Marika Koroibete etc and that number is expected to grow.
With Eddie Jones’s strong connections to Japanese rugby, there are strong rumours suggests as the new Australian coach, he might drop the famous “Gitau Law” which could see more Australian players head to Japan and still be eligible for Wallaby selection.
The recent weekend also saw collaboration from a match official point of view – with Australians Nic Berry officiating a match between Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo and Toyota Verblitz, while Angus Gardiner oversaw the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Sagamihara Dynaboars’ 27-all draw with the Shizuoka Blue Revs.
There is also a trend for more Argentine (Pablo Matera) and northern hemisphere participation (see our interview with Joe Launchbury, Greig Laidlaw and Hadleigh Parkes.)
Japan Rugby League One’s “mission to create one of the premier club competitions in world rugby is making eye-catching progress” and the League confirmed that more players from different countries are expected to be announced in the months to come.
We have not even touched on the high-calibre coaching talent currently operating in the JRLO from Directors of rugby, coaches and consultants which include Robbie Deans, Steve Hansen, Micheal Cheika, Todd Blackadder, Frans Ludeke etc.
Financial Stability in JRLO
Some of the key attractions for overseas players to compete in the Japan Rugby League One are the shorter seasons, but also the healthy salaries. Savea has been the bluntest of late, saying “Plain and simple – to set up my family. The money’s good, I’m not going to lie.”
It’s not been confirmed what the top players earn (with some wild numbers thrown around) – but the corporate-backed rugby union clubs in the JRLO are also meant to offer the financial security that players want (and avoid what happened to English clubs like Worcester and Wasps).
The clubs in the JRLO knew before entering the league what was required financially, and far enough some opted against joining (Coca-Cola Red Sparks).
JRLO Chief Operating Officer Hajime Shoji said at the start of the 2022-2023 season “Japan Rugby League One provides our clubs, and their parent companies, with a vehicle to help create this growth, while also rewarding their loyal corporate support with a greater company profile in the new markets we open”.
Culture – Highs and Lows
Another key attraction is the culture of Japan and the league. However, as we have seen (again) with the recent debacle surrounding the Hino Red Dolphins – this means adhering to all of the local customs and traditions, including clubs pulling out of fixtures for having their name tarnished.
This is not an isolated incident and the club suspended all activities immediately, “and it remains uncertain when, or if, the club will resume operations.”
Japanese media reported that the Hino Red Dolphins Director Tokuichi Shiga via an online press conference said, “We deeply apologise to everyone for the inconvenience”, and JRLO Executive Director Shoji Hajime expressed concern about the impact on the League, adding, “Of course, there are various negative impacts.”
The actual incident that caused the latest issue is believed to have occurred in October 2022 but only came to light recently.
Asian Rugby Tournaments
- Asia Rugby – Partial 2023 Tournament Calendar.
- Best International 2023 Rugby Tournaments In Asia.
- Japan Rugby League One 2022-2023: JRLO Round 8 Preview.
- Japan High School Rugby Team to Tour For First Time In Four Years.