As English rugby’s top-flight takes a two-week break, former Saracens talisman Alex Goode is preparing to make his debut for NEC Green Rockets in the Japan Top League against former teammate George Kruis, who is now with Robbie Deans’ highly-rated Panasonic Wild Knights.
Goode and Kruis face each other at Kumagaya on Saturday even though the start of the 2021 Top League, like the major European competitions, is being shaped by positive tests for Covid-19.
Forty-four people from three teams – Toyota Verblitz, Suntory Sungoliath and Canon Eagles – tested positive in pre-season screening and it has resulted in the cancellation of the two opening round matches involving those three clubs.
However, the green light has been given for the Rockets versus Wild Knights encounter where Goode, on a break in Japan after signing a contract extension at Saracens through to 2023, will face Kruis who is now a teammate of ex-Wales centre Hadleigh Parkes.
Based at Abiko, 25 miles north of Tokyo, Goode told RugbyPass: “We [Green Rockets] are the only semi-professional team in the league and that means we have to train later because the Japanese players are at work during the day.
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— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 13, 2021
“Training is hugely different from Saracens and a lot gets lost in translation. I will be playing out-half and explaining about going flatter, wider or sneaking in behind someone. It means I spend a lot of time with the translator. The big boss makes all the decisions and it is different from Sarries where we were very player-led, constantly pushing back with the coaches in training. That takes a bit of getting used to.
“We had two 40-minute practice matches coming into the season and the experience has been challenging but also very rewarding as they [Saracens and Rockets] are two very different clubs. I have been at Sarries for 15 years and know all the staff and players, but here our Japanese players have to shoot off and go to work.
“This weekend I’m playing against George, who has been my teammate for ten years. We have met up in Tokyo a couple of times. With Covid, we have to get the bus back straight after games, so I won’t be able to stay with him again this weekend which is a shame.
“George’s team is one of the top two in the league and are coached by Robbie Deans. They have a really good set-up built for rugby and have six or seven of the Japan World Cup squad. The Japanese players at my club are really talented and I can hopefully point them in the right direction.
“Any new player has to integrate with a new club and it would be impossible to replicate the special place that Sarries is to me and you do miss having 30 of your best mates around every day. I’m lucky that Richard Graham, who coached at Sarries under Alan Gaffney and Eddie Jones, is here in my apartment block and Sam Jeffries and Andrew Kellaway are two Aussies I get on really well with and went skiing with them.
“It has made my time very enjoyable here. I have already played against Jesse Kriel and there are so many great players out here but they are also in a different system and now have Japanese players alongside them.”
Goode, who had to go through two weeks isolation before he could link up with the Green Rockets, is enjoying the very different rugby life in Japan compared to North London. “Any time you move countries on your own with a huge time difference then it’s going to be tough, particularly having to initially do two weeks isolation.
“Since then I have loved Japan and I was lucky to go skiing at New Year. There are so many incredible things about the country, including the food. Door to door it takes about 45 minutes to get from my house to Tokyo central station.
“There are so many great places to eat near where we are, and also the best Mexican I have ever been to. It’s because of the care they put into their cooking, even if it is a pizza. They have the discipline to make this beautiful meal every time, which is perfect.
“I have been keeping in touch with all the Sarries boys, including Will Skelton and Alex Lozowski in France, and the club is keeping tabs on me. I heard about the Premiership not playing for two weeks and they should have played because there will be a backlog later on.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 13, 2021
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