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‘I went to escape’: All Black Ardie Savea bracing for tough season in Japan

By Finn Morton
rdie Savea of New Zealand celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's fourth try during the Rugby World Cup France 2023 match between New Zealand and Italy at Parc Olympique on September 29, 2023 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

One month on from the All Blacks’ heartbreaking Rugby World Cup campaign, backrower Ardie Savea is bracing himself for another gruelling after inking a short-term deal in Japan.

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Savea just wanted to “escape Super Rugby” for a season but a legendary contingent of the All Blacks’ finest will also ply their trade in the Land of the Rising Sun in the 2023/24 campaign.

The All Blacks vice-captain, who was named World Rugby’s Player of the Year in Paris last month, has penned a one-season deal with Dave Rennie’s Kobelco Steelers in Japan’s Rugby League One.

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Savea will pull on the well-known red jersey alongside Brodie Retallick and former New Zealand international Ngani Laumape, and the talent across the board in Japan is equally as destructive.

All Blacks Richie Mo’unga, Shannon Frizell, Aaron Smith and Dane Coles have signed big deals, while captain Sam Cane has taken up a sabbatical with New Zealand Rugby.

The competition will be fierce and passionate as friends and teammates become foes for 80 minutes, so Savea is hoping that “they don’t smash me too much.”

“I went to escape Super Rugby and the Kiwi boys, but they’re all signed to play in Japan,” Savea joked on The Project.

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“It’s going to be good to see the likes of and play against Richie (Mo’unga) and Shannon (Frizell) and join up with Ngani.

“It’s going to be good. Hopefully they don’t smash me too much.”

Another All Black is off to Japan, and that man is playmaker Beauden Barrett. Barrett will join Aaron Smith at Toshiba, but the fullback is rumoured to return to New Zealand afterwards.

While the decision to head overseas was widely tipped to bring an end to Barrett’s illustrious All Blacks career, the door appears very much open for a return.

“He’s certainly got the opportunity to come back here, that’s what he wants to do,” New Zealand Rugby men’s head of high-performance Mike Anthony said.

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“Like some of the other senior pros, there’s a chance to head away and get a sabbatical and then come back in.”

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