MA’A NONU isn’t sure the presence of international stars in Japanese club rugby is something that will ultimately help the national side become a serious contender on the test stage.
The All Blacks star was shocked by how many foreigners there are playing rugby in Japan – something that became clear when he came across familiar faces in all of the games he played for the Ricoh Black Rams after the Rugby World Cup.
“Most of the teams have six or seven foreign players, so I played a few of my mates who I used to play in New Zealand,” says Nonu.
The 29-year-old was surprised to learn that a lot of Japan-born players also work for their clubs.
He feels Japanese rugby would be stronger if the local players were afforded the same luxuries as the imports.
“A lot of their players work… they’re not [fully] professional like us. It’s hard, because their companies expect them to play rugby at the same time.
“If they maybe give them a slot where they just play rugby they will get better.”
Former Japan coach John Kirwan was expecting his side to win two games at last year’s World Cup but the Brave Blossoms – currently rated 14th in the world by the IRB – finished last in Pool A with three losses and a draw.
Nonu refutes suggestions that overseas players only head to Japan for the short seasons and large pay packets.
“The Japanese do expect you to play. You can’t just go there, make money but not play good rugby. You’ve got to prove [yourself] with results or you won’t play.”
Nonu, who has played 66 tests for the All Blacks and 110 games for the Hurricanes, arrived back in the country on the eve of the Blues’ loss to the Crusaders at Eden Park last Friday. He is likely to make his debut for the Auckland-based franchise against the Bulls in Pretoria next weekend.
The dreadlocked Wellingtonian says he is ready for a “new chapter with a new team” after suffering a “World Cup hangover” early on in Japan.
He played 12 games for the Tokyo-based Rams, where his teammates included the Highlanders duo of Tamati Ellison and James Haskell, scoring six tries, copping one yellow card, and missing a 45m penalty goal attempt in a game against Mils Muliaina’s NTT Docomo side.« Back to Articles
With the series level, expect both teams to put it all on the line as they seek to win the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday night.