Chiefs and Blues to face Japan's best League One teams in 2024
New Zealand Rugby’s relationship with their Japan counterparts has taken some bold new steps in 2023, after signing a Memorandum of Understanding earlier in the year.
After the All Blacks played a Test in Tokyo last year as the first stop of their End of Year Tour, the All Blacks XV visited the country to play two games, one against a Japan XV and the next against the Brave Blossoms, in 2023.
Next, it will be Super Rugby teams who venture to The Land of the Rising Sun, in what is expected to become an annual fixture and the start of perhaps a greater relationship between the respective clubs.
In 2024 the Blues and Chiefs have announced preseason fixtures against the top four teams in Japan’s Rugby League One: Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath, Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights, Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo-Bay, and Yokohama Canon Eagles.
Chiefs Rugby Club CEO, Simon Graafhuis said: ‘’The MOU signed between Japan Rugby Union (JPU) and New Zealand Rugby (NZR) has created a fantastic opportunity to take the Gallagher Chiefs outside of the traditional markets of Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific, and along with the Blues we will get a chance to showcase the New Zealand style of Super Rugby.
“We know from the excitement shown by JRU around the competition, and the response from locals to All Black and All Black XV games, there will be good demand for the games. Hopefully, this will help us grow our fan base in Japan.”
Graafhuis went on to acknowledge the pre-existing relationship between his team and the Kobelco Kobe Steelers.
“We have been fortunate to historically collaborate with the Kobelco Kobe Steelers. There has been a strong connection through past coaches and players in the Kobe environment – people like Wayne Smith, Dave Rennie, Dave Dillon and Nick Holten have been involved with coaching both the Kobe and the Gallagher Chiefs. On the playing side, some great Chiefs have played for Kobe, including Aaron Cruden, Brodie Retallick and Bryn Gatland.’’
New Zealand Rugby CEO Mark Robinson added a similar sentiment to the announcement.
“It is great to see the Gallagher Chiefs and Blues playing pre-season matches in Japan, this was one of the opportunities we identified when signing the Memorandum of Understanding with Japan Rugby earlier this year so it’s nice to see it come to fruition.”
Blues CEO Andrew Hore also shared his thoughts on the fixtures.
“We’ve seen the evolution of Japanese rugby in recent times and it’s a market we see significant value in as it grows in popularity and we start to redefine our own competition,” he said.
“This trip adds another layer to our pre-season. It gives players and coaches quality time away in a tour environment to foster relationships and develop combinations ahead of what should be an exciting 2024 season.”
Japan Rugby League One chairman, Genichi Tamatsuka, hinted at expanding the schedule in the future.
“This marks the realisation of our plan to host matches between top-level club teams and League One teams since the inception of our league.
“We see this as an opportunity to showcase the presence and value of Japan Rugby League One on the global stage and are preparing for an exceptional event, with potential expansion in mind.”
Match 1: Saturday, February 3: Tokyo Suntory Sungoliath v Blues, Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium.
Match 2: Sunday, February 4: Saitama Panasonic Wild Knights v Chiefs, Kumagaya Rugby Stadium.
Match 3: Saturday, February 10: Kubota Spears Funabashi Tokyo-Bay v Chiefs, Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium.
Match 4: Saturday, February 10: Yokohama Canon Eagles v Blues, Nippatsu Mitsuzawa Stadium.