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How the Top League has impacted the stars of the Rugby Championship

By Alex McLeod

Trending on RugbyPass

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It has taken some time, but the Rugby Championship stars who have return to test rugby via Japan’s Top League are beginning to flourish on the international stage.

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Among the standouts in the latest round of the Rugby Championship included star playmakers Beauden Barrett and Quade Cooper.

Barrett’s attacking prowess and Cooper’s game management and goal-kicking accuracy proved crucial in the All Blacks‘ and Wallabies’ respective victories over the Springboks and Los Pumas on the Gold Coast.

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Both players plied their trade in Japan for Suntory Sungoliath and the Kintetsu Liners, respectively, this season, with Barrett lining up alongside Wallabies midfielder Samu Kerevi at Suntory in their runner-up finish in this year’s Top League.

Kerevi has been a standout for the Wallabies since returning to the Australian national squad for the first time in two years in the side’s two most recent tests against the All Blacks and Springboks and looms as a long-term option in the green and gold No 12 jersey.

Likewise, TJ Perenara, who enjoyed a sabbatical at the NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes this year, performed well in his first start of the year for the All Blacks over the weekend.

Brodie Retallick and Michael Hooper, meanwhile, are back to their best for the All Blacks and Wallabies after turning out for the Kobelco Steelers and Toyota Verblitz during their respective sabbaticals.

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The influence of the New Zealand players hasn’t been lost on Crusaders and Maori All Blacks halfback Bryn Hall, who told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod that he has been particularly impressed by Perenara’s up-tempo style of play since returning from Japan.

“I look at a halfback, in particular. In the Japanese league, it’s really based around your tempo and getting the ball out as quick as you can,” Hall said.

“I like to think TJ going over there to Japan, he lost a few kgs around trying to get to the style of what it was to play in Japan and, from all reports, when he played out there, he had his physical prowess and was able to impact the game with his running game and defensively with his turnovers and his actual physicality.

“His tempo was seen on the weekend, and that’s probably [because of] him being in Japan and a league where tempo is probably the king in that competition.”

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Hall also acknowledged Barrett’s performances in New Zealand’s last two tests against Australia and Argentina in the absence of Richie Mo’unga, which is sure to cause All Blacks boss Ian Foster some selection headaches upon the latter’s return in the coming weeks.

“Even Beaudy as well, I thought he took it to another level. You talk around his game management, it was great, even around his different types of kicks that he had.

“Even in the last two test matches he had, his long-distance kicking, as well, has been a real attribute and a real great positive for the All Blacks in the last two test matches. He’s coming back into form.”

However, Hall noted the difficulty that comes with switching between the club game in Japan to test rugby from a physicality perspective.

“I think the only thing that you really try and get used to, with the likes of Brodie as well, is probably that physicality of playing against bigger players,” the 29-year-old told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

“The Japanese are a little bit different, like I said, with the tempo and probably being a little bit agile with fitness, whereas it might take a little bit longer for the physicality to get used to it.

“I thought the All Blacks have done that really well with Beaudy, Brodie and TJ, bringing them in slowly with getting a bit of game time here and there.

“Now they’re getting into a position where they’re starting due to the conditioning from [All Blacks trainer] Nic Gill and obviously the coaches as well, giving them the confidence from going from limited minutes to be able to play more minutes in the games.”

Ex-All Blacks and Blues hooker James Parsons echoed Hall’s sentiments as he paid tribute to the efforts of Kerevi and Hooper for the Wallabies.

The former two-test international added all the aforementioned players were able to return to test rugby without a hitch due to their experience, which paid dividends in their transition between teams.

“I think you can add Michael Hooper and Samu Kerevi to that list as well. They’ve obviously come from Japan and I thought they were exceptional on Sunday as well,” Parsons told the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.

“But, if we look at all those names, the other thing that sticks out is they’ve been around a long time, they’ve been professionals for a long time.

“They know what they need to get themselves to that absolute peak performance, and they’re certainly right in the mixer in all areas at the moment.”

Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:

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How the Top League has impacted the stars of the Rugby Championship

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