Former All Blacks lock Isaac Ross has returned to New Zealand to sign with the Tasman Mako after being left without a club in Japan over an obscure Top League rule.
Ross, who played eight tests for the All Blacks in 2009, was at the centre of a recent controversy in the Top League whereby he he found himself without a club, after of nine years of service in Japan, due to his foreign status.
Despite having held a Japanese passport since 2017, the 35-year-old was still deemed a foreigner under a Top League law introduced in 2016 that restricts internationally-capped players from overseas who have obtained Japanese citizenship from being recognised as a local player.
With Top League squads limited to fielding two internationally-capped foreign players at any time, Ross had his playing time significantly reduced this year after the NTT Communications Shining Arcs signed Springboks hooker Malcolm Marx and Wallabies playmaker Christian Lealiifano.
He was subsequently deemed surplus to requirements, and was released from his contract with the club following the cancellation of the 2020 Top League due to COVID-19.
“We’ve committed to Japan and we’ve decided to leave our home countries and make a life over here,” Ross told RugbyPass in September.
“They have continued to loosen other foreign player regulations while staying firm on ours despite the fact it no longer makes sense and infringes on our rights as Japanese.
“We gave up our citizenship of our own countries to become Japanese, and that’s probably the biggest thing for us.”
Labelling the rule as “discriminatory”, Ross, alongside former New Zealand and Australian sevens representatives Colin Bourke and Brackin Karauria-Henry, sought a change in ruling from the Top League to allow them to stay in Japan.
However, the Japan Rugby Football Union confirmed just under a fortnight ago that no change would be made to the law for the upcoming season.
That has led Ross to return to New Zealand, where he is set to play professional rugby for the first time since 2011.
WELCOME TO THE CLUB HOUSE. With a number of players unavailable due to All Black commitments and injuries, Isaac Ross,…
With a slew of players unavailable due to injury and All Blacks commitments, Ross has joined reigning Mitre 10 Cup champions Tasman for the remainder of the 2020 campaign.
His addition to the squad comes after star Highlanders lock Pari Pari Parkinson and newly-announced All Blacks second rower Quinten Strange both succumbed to season-ending injuries.
Additionally, local back-up options Antonio Shalfoon and Max Hicks also remain under injury clouds, paving the way for a homecoming for Ross after nine years away.
After accruing 53 appearances for Canterbury between 2006 and 2010, the former Crusaders, Highlanders and Chiefs lock could make his Mako debut as soon as this Sunday, when Tasman host Bay of Plenty in Nelson.
Despite losing 40-24 to North Harbour last weekend – their first loss in almost two years – Tasman remain at the top of the Premiership standings with just three points separating them from fifth-placed Canterbury.
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