Charlie Matthews has become the latest player from England to enlist for a stint in Japanese club rugby, the 28-year-old lock joining Kamaishi Seawaves on the same day that hooker/back row Ashley Johnson, the 34-year-old former Springbok, revealed he was also leaving Premiership club Wasps.
“After eight enjoyable years in the Premiership I have decided that the time is right for my young family and I to take up an exciting opportunity to play in Japan, for Kamaishi Seawaves,” explained Matthews, who made 163 appearances for Harlequins before joining Wasps in 2018. He made 28 appearances before the 2019/20 season was suspended by the coronavirus pandemic.
Johnson carved out his reputation at the Cheetahs in 2006, going on to play for South Africa on three occasions in 2011 before switching to Wasps in 2012 when he enjoyed a lengthy career that numbered 198 appearances and 42 tries scored.
“I would like to thank everyone at Wasps that was part of my incredible journey during the last eight years,” said Johnson. “I have played alongside some incredibly talented players in my time at Wasps and, more importantly, I’ve made some lifelong friends.
“To Dai Young, who signed me back in 2012, thank you for believing and taking a chance on me – I will be forever grateful. Relocating to Coventry and playing at the Ricoh is certainly one of the highlights of my career.”
Commenting on the departures, Lee Blackett, who took over as head coach following the exit of Young last February, said: “Ashley has to go down as one of the best signings in Wasps history. He has become a fan favourite for several reasons, whether it’s his barnstorming carries, massive gain line stopping tackles or for being a very humble character.
“I would just like to thank Charlie for his massive efforts over the last two seasons. He has always given his best to the club, on and off the field. It’s a shame his Wasps career has ended before the season is over as he was playing some of his best rugby before we went into lockdown.”
Johnson was suspended from playing in 2018 after mistakenly ingesting one of his wife’s fat-stripping tablets instead of his own legal supplement. Speaking to RugbyPass last year about the ban he said: “Mentally it was really tough. My mental health was challenged, so it was just awesome to be in a really good space to come back and perform at the level I know I can.
“It’s a tough old situation. Mental health is something, especially from a rugby player’s point, that is being talked a lot. When you go away from the squad it’s a very lonely place and you have to deal with stuff on your own.
'It was really tough. My mental health was challenged, so it was awesome to come back and perform at the level I know I can'
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 31, 2019
“The RPA [Rugby Players’ Association] was amazing, just to put a hand over my shoulder and make sure I knew what to do if I need to talk to someone. It was just about surrounding yourself with people who know who you are, friends that support you, positive reinforcement all the time. It’s just being around people.
“They said, ‘Listen, we can still go for a beer, you’re still part of this club, still one of our mates’. The boys were brilliant. They supported me so much. Even just a little text, a little hand on the shoulder.
“Then when I came back I wanted to do it for them. I wanted to be in a really good place where I could contribute and show them the same love and faith they showed me when I went through that difficult period.”
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