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Kiwi pivots set to face off as Folau-less Shining Arcs take on Green Rockets

By Tom Vinicombe
Otere Black and Fletcher Smith. (Photos by Getty Images)

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The top flight of Japan’s League One competition enters its third round this weekend and while every match has a Kiwi connection or two, it’s the face-off between two former Super Rugby pivots that looms as perhaps the most enticing.

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This Saturday will see the Shining Arcs square off with the Green Rockets at Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium in Tokyo.

For the first time this year, newly recruited fullback Israel Folau won’t take the field for the Shining Arcs, with the former Wallaby given the weekend off. The Shining Arcs’ other major pick-up for the year, however, Otere Black, has again been named to start in the No 10 jersey.

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Catch highlights from the Kobe Steelers vs the Shining Arcs from Round 1 of League One.
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Catch highlights from the Kobe Steelers vs the Shining Arcs from Round 1 of League One.

Black helped guide the Blues to a Super Rugby Trans-Tasman title last year and was one of the most consistent players throughout the competition. Opposite him on Saturday will be another current titleholder in the form of Waikato pivot Fletcher Smith, who helped guide his province to an NPC premiership late last year.

Smith started out his own Super Rugby career with the Highlanders in 2016 before relocating to the Hurricanes for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. In 2021, Smith made the move to Japan and signed with the Shining Arcs but shifted to the Green Rockets ahead of the current season. Saturday’s match looms will mark the 26-year-old’s debut for his new team.

Both Black and Smith also represented the New Zealand Under 20s at the 2015 World Championships and have featured for the Maori All Blacks over the years.

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The Shining Arcs and Green Rockets will each enter Saturday’s fixture with one win and one draw to their names – although the latter’s victory was a product of the Saitama Wild Knights having to forfeit the match due to a number of positive Covid cases.

Other foreign stars who will run out on Saturday for the Shining Arcs include Australian loose forward Liam Gill and Scotland talisman Greg Laidlaw while the Green Rockets will call upon the services of former Wales representative Jake Ball and well-travelled Kiwis Whetukamokamo Douglas and Tom Marshall.

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