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Beauden Barrett to make Top League debut after being named to start for Suntory Sungoliath

By Sam Smith
(Photo by BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images)

All Blacks star Beauden Barrett is set to finally make his long-awaited Top League debut for Suntory Sungoliath against Mitsubishi Dynaboars in Minami-Ku on Sunday.

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Barrett has been named to start at first-five in what will be his first official appearance for the Japanese club since joining on a sabbatical deal from New Zealand Rugby and the Blues at the end of last year.

The two-time World Rugby Player of the Year’s debut has been a long time coming, with the Top League postponing its season for a month after three clubs – Suntory, Toyota Verblitz and Canon Eagles – suffered a COVID-19 outbreak within its squads.

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Dan McKellar and Allan Alaalatoa after Brumbies win over Force | Super Rugby AU

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Dan McKellar and Allan Alaalatoa after Brumbies win over Force | Super Rugby AU

However, the competition is ready to get underway this weekend, and Barrett will take to the field alongside some notable names for Suntory.

Forming a strong halves partnership with Japanese international Yutaka Nagare, Barrett headlines a powerhouse backline that also includes former Wallabies midfielder Samu Kerevi and ex-Blues and Highlanders wing Tevita Li.

In the pack, former Reds lock Harry Hockings will kit up in the second row, while tighthead prop Sam Talakai – formerly of the Waratahs, Reds and Rebels – gets the nod at No. 3.

In an added twist, Barrett will mark his former All Blacks teammate Colin Slade, who is also on his Top League debut after moving to the Dynaboars from French club Pau last year.

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Slade will be joined by fellow ex-All Black Jackson Hemopo, who will start at lock as he enters his second season in the Top League.

Slade and Hemopo aren’t the only New Zealanders in the Mitsubishi lineup.

Former Hurricanes and Crusaders loose forward Heiden Bedwell-Curtis will start at No. 8, ex-Blues and Sunwolves midfielder Michael Little is at centre, and former Blues utility back Matt Vaega has been selected at fullback.

Well-traveled utility back James Wilson – who has previously played across New Zealand, Australia, France and England – is also on the bench.

Elsewhere, Barrett’s All Blacks and former Hurricanes halves partner TJ Perenara will make his debut at halfback for NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes against the Canon Eagles on Sunday.

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Like Barrett, Perenara is on sabbatical in Japan, and will square off against the likes of Springboks centre Jesse Kriel, ex-Highlanders cult hero Fumiaki Tanaka, former Sunwolves speedster Hosea Saumaki, Brave Blossoms pivot Yu Tamura and former Chiefs and Highlanders utility forward Jesse Parete at Machida Stadium in Tokyo.

In the other Top League match on Sunday, Hino Red Dolphins – featuring ex-All Blacks halfback Augustine Pulu and former Chiefs and Rebels playmaker Jack Debreczeni – will host Kwagga Smith’s Yamaha Jubilo in Osaka.

The 2021 Top League season kicks-off on Saturday when NTT Communications Shining Arcs take on Honda Heat in Tokyo at 1pm on Saturday [local time].

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Turlough 1 hours ago
Jean de Villiers' three word response to 'best in the world' debate

This ‘raging’ debate is only happenning in media circles and has never been a topic in Ireland (although SA media are interested). It makes the media companies money I guess. SA are RWC champions and #1 ranked team although Ireland are back within a point there. The facts point to SA. For a lot of 2021 France beat ALL their rivals and Ireland similar in 2022-2023. It is not wrong to say that on such form either can be deemed to be the current best team if they have beaten all their rivals and ranked #1. The ‘have to have won a world cup’ stipulation is nonsense. The world cup draw and scheduling has been tailored to the traditional big teams since the start. The scheduling also which sees the big teams sheltered from playing a hard pool match the week before has also been a constant. It is extraordinary that for example France have made so many finals. Ireland who were realistically only contenders in 2023 were in a Pool with two other top 5 teams and had to play one of them 7 days before a quarter final against France or New Zealand. Always going to be a coin toss. Scotland’s situation was worse. New Zealand had great chances in 1995, 1999, 2007 but they could not win a tight RWC match. The first tight match they ever won was versus France in the 2011 final, literally they lost every other tight match before that. Some of those NZ teams around that era were #1 surely?

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