Three-test lock/blindside flanker Jackson Hemopo has become the newest All Black to ink an offshore deal.
Japanese Top League club Mitsubishi Sagamihara Dynaboars has announced their signing of the abrasive 25-year-old on their Instagram account yesterday.
Mitsubishi were promoted into the top flight of Japanese rugby last season when they finished second in the Top Challenge League, beating 15-placed Top League side Toyota Shuttles Industries 31-7 in a promotion-relegation play-off in December.
The club have a raft of foreign-born players in their side, including a large New Zealand contingent, featuring standout Sunwolves midfielder Michael Little, Hurricanes loose forward Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, and former North Harbour and Blues midfielder Matt Vaega.
It will make for familiar surroundings for Hemopo, who had a breakout year in 2018 with the Highlanders.
He starred in the second row for the Dunedin-based franchise en route to their run to the play-offs, and impressed the All Blacks selectors enough to make his debut as a blindside flanker against France in Dunedin last June.
Hemopo, who looms as a firm candidate to make the All Blacks’ World Cup squad later this year, becomes one of many players within the Highlanders squad to take up contracts in Japan.
Elliot Dixon, Marty Banks, Richard Buckman and Tom Franklin have all returned following stints in the Top League during the Super Rugby off-season, while 23-test loose forward Liam Squire is set to join NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes on a two-year deal at the end of the year.
Mitsubishi’s announcement comes just days after All Blacks skipper Kieran Read announced his signing with Top League club Toyota Verblitz.
The duo are the most recent New Zealand internationals to announce deals with foreign clubs, with Ben Smith (Pau), Owen Franks (Northampton), Waisake Naholo (London Irish), Nehe Milner-Skudder (Toulon), Jordan Taufua (Leicester Tigers), Matt Proctor (Northampton), Jeffery Toomaga-Allen (Wasps) and Squire all confirmed departures.
The option for players to move to Japan to cash in on their talents is becoming an increasingly popular decision in New Zealand, with three-test loose forward Dixon recently telling Stuff that his short-term deal with Ricoh Black Rams enabled him to stay in the country and play Super Rugby without having to take up offers from European clubs.
“That kept me in New Zealand so I think it’s a good option for New Zealanders to go and try and something different, and if they’ve been there for a few years to come back refreshed and ready to go again,” he said.
The Highlanders and New Zealand Rugby are yet to make an announcement on the signing.
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