Reports: Another experienced All Black set for Japan stint in 2022
According to reports from Stuff, Tuipulotu will play for Toyota Verblitz in next year’s replacement for the Top League, the Japan Rugby League One – but has also agreed to extend his current contract with the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman champions.
Tuipulotu signed a long-term deal with the Blues and New Zealand Rugby at the beginning of 2020, agreeing to remain in NZ until the 2023 Rugby World Cup, but is now set for an even longer stint with the Auckland franchise.
With Barrett returning for next season, coupled with the arrival of NRL star Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, all signs were pointing to the Blues boasting perhaps the strongest squad they’ve been able to pull together since the heydays of the early 2000s.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) July 18, 2021
The loss of Tuipulotu will hit the franchise hard, however, given his importance to the Blues’ engine room. Fellow lock Gerard Cowley-Tuioti is also heading to Japan next season, meaning the Blues have two specialists contracted for next season, Joshua Goodhue and 20-year-old Sam Darry.
Tom Robinson has regularly slotted into the second row in the past for the Blues and with Akira Ioane set for an extended run with the All Blacks this season, Robinson could shift back into lock to accommodate for Ioane’s return to the starting loose forwards trio. Youngster Taine Plumtree, who made a sole appearance for the Blues off the bench in his debut campaign this year, can also play at lock.
Otherwise, Blues coach Leon MacDonald will likely have to pluck some new talent out of the upcoming NPC – or extend their search for talent to outside New Zealand, as they did when they brought England centre Joe Marchant into the mix last year, and tried to sign Argentina midfielder Santiago Chocobarres for the most recent campaign.
Like Barrett and Retallick this year, and Samuel Whitelock last season, Tuipulotu will be able to link back up with the All Blacks as soon as he returns from Japan.
Barrett and Retallick were both first-choice selections for the national side before they headed overseas but have had to bide their time this year to crack the starting team. Tuipulotu is not in quite such a strong position, however, and is likely the third or fourth top lock in the national pecking order. Any move overseas – even a temporary one – could harm his future prospects, but with a one-season salary of $1.4 million reportedly on offer, the positives evidently far outweigh the risks for the 28-year-old.
Fellow All Black Damian McKenzie is also supposedly weighing up a one-season sabbatical for next year.
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