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Springbok stars ‘make some coin’ as Japan rugby season kicks off

Kubota Spears will turn out as defending champions in Japan's rising club league.

Almost half the players who started the recent World Cup final, including six Springboks, will be in action when Japan’s club rugby season kicks off this weekend.

Seven All Blacks who lined up for South Africa’s narrow win in Paris in October are also now in Japan Rugby League One as it looks to take its profile to a new level.

South Africa won the World Cup with a sizeable Japan-based contingent that included Pieter-Steph du Toit, Faf de Klerk and Damian de Allende.

Jet-heeled winger Cheslin Kolbe has now joined their ranks after also signing for Sungoliath.

The Tokyo team will be among a host of clubs attempting to dethrone champions Kubota Spears.

Kubota, led by Australian fly-half Bernard Foley, beat Saitama Wild Knights in last season’s final to win their first title.

Sungoliath and Yokohama Eagles were the other sides from the 12-team first division to reach the championship playoffs.

Kubota lost influential South African hooker Malcolm Marx for the season when he got injured at the World Cup, but they have signed a more than capable replacement in veteran All Black Dane Coles.

“I can help out the next generation coming through, add a bit of skill set to this league,” said the 36-year-old, who won 90 caps for the All Blacks.

“I’ve been watching it from afar for a long time and it’s an exciting league to play in.”

All Black stars

Meanwhile, All Blacks captains Sam Cane and newly crowned World Rugby player of the year Ardie Savea headline a wave of incoming Kiwis that also includes fly-half Richie Mo’unga, scrum-half Aaron Smith and flanker Shannon Frizell.

Versatile back Beauden Barrett and lock Brodie Retallick also arrive for second stints in Japan.

Overseas players are attracted by Japan’s shorter club season and the chance to explore the culture.

But money is also a significant factor, with Mo’unga saying that players “come over here to make some good coin”.

Cane has joined Tokyo Sungoliath and said he was impressed by his new club’s “deep hunger and desire to win”.

“It’s hugely exciting to be a part of a group that desperately wants to win, because that aligns with where I sit and one of the reasons why I play the game,” the 31-year-old loose forward said.

Domestic talent

Big-name overseas stars will hog the headlines, but there will be plenty of Japanese talent on display.

Japan’s World Cup squad was entirely domestic-based and former captain Michael Leitch believes the fresh influx of foreign talent will help the local players raise their level.

“It’s awesome having so many superstars here playing in Japan and having so many Japanese players playing with them,” said Leitch, who will line up alongside Mo’unga and Frizell at Brave Lupus Tokyo.

“And having so many young Japanese players watching and learning off the best in the world.”

There are new arrivals from Europe, too, including Welsh pair Liam Williams and Gareth Anscombe.

Full-back Williams has joined Kubota while fly half Anscombe has signed for Sungoliath.

Wales players threatened strike action over contract issues at home earlier this year, while financial troubles continue to engulf the professional game.

Former Wales international Jake Ball, currently playing in Japan’s second division, believes greater financial stability could persuade more players to move east.

“The level of rugby in Division 1, certainly with the top six teams, is a good level of rugby,” said the 32-year-old.

The Japan Rugby League One regular season runs until May, with the playoff semis and final later that month.

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