All Black captain Kieran Read’s ultimate landing destination has been narrowed down in recent weeks to a Japanese Top League club, with French publication RugbyRama reporting in early January naming Jake White’s Toyota Verblitz as the leading contender to sign Read after talks with Racing 92 broke down.
It was initially suggested by L’Equipe that Read would link with ex-Crusaders teammate Dan Carter at Kobelco Steelers, where the former All Blacks flyhalf led the side to a Top League title last season.
The pair join Liam Squire as the latest All Blacks to line up Top League stints after the World Cup, while their remains a host of other All Blacks uncontracted past 2019, including halfback Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Sam Whitelock, and Sonny Bill Williams.
All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen announced earlier this year that would step down from his role following the conclusion of the Rugby World Cup, after over 16-years with the team. He said he has no immediate plans other than to spend more time with his family, however, there are suggestions that Hansen could join Read at Toyota Verblitz.
With another World Cup-winning coach currently in charge of the side, Jake White, it is unclear in what capacity Hansen would be involved if he decided to join Toyota. With Hansen expressing a desire to step away from rugby, it seems unlikely that he would take on a role so soon, but if he does, could mirror former All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith.
Smith linked with the Kobelco Steelers in a consulting/director of rugby-type role, and a similar advisory role could suit Hansen if he desires to take on a fresh challenge in Japan with lesser hands-on coaching commitments.
Beauden Barrett is expected to re-sign with NZR with a sabbatical clause to play offshore in 2020, while Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick are also re-signing priorities for NZR and more sabbatical clause will likely be used to retain them.
With the lesser demands of the Top League seen as a desirable destination from an NZR point of view, these stars may also be pushed in that direction for their sabbaticals, while a double-payday also is an attractive proposition in the back-to-back Top League seasons.
The Japan Top League could be one of the more interesting professional rugby competitions in 2020, as a number of top All Blacks land at Top League clubs.
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